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Grocery Ninja: Marinated Slippery Jacks

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read her past market missions here.

Has anyone else been in a situation where you bump into someone from somewhere completely fabulous—say Cambodia, or Fiji, or Mozambique—and, horror of horrors, you find, after asking them a million and one nosy questions about the food back home (questions you've always wanted to ask but could never find the right books or expertise to), that this fabulous person, with such a potentially fabulous culinary background, isn't much of a food person at all?

How tragic is that? There is nothing more heartbreaking than hearing someone say, "Food schmood—it's all fuel." (I justify such blatant bigotry on my part by equating it to a dog lover saying, "He's an amazing guy, but we're not going to work out. He's just not a dog person." And yes, props to all you food bloggers out there—the world is a livelier place for the wonderful work you do!)

So it drives me nuts that the Russian housemate isn't much of a food person. Now, don't get me wrong, unlike the aforementioned tragedy of complete indifference, the guy appreciates a tasty bowl of marinated mushrooms like the rest of them. It's just he's never thought about it. Never asked his grandma why, why do the 'shrooms need to sit for hours in sunflower oil? Why the sidekick of raw, sliced onions? What are the little brown and beige seeds bobbing alongside?

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I have to admit, when he first popped the cap off the bottle, I was not impressed. They were swimming in a clear, somewhat viscous liquid he identified as vinegar, didn't taste of much beyond sour, and boasted a fairly uninteresting texture of "soft." It was only when they had had a couple of hours in an oil and onion bath that they perked up.

"Won't you please call your mom and ask?" I beg.

A flurry of Russian and much gesticulation later, I'm given a few miserly crumbs of information.

"Oh, the oil and onions are just to get rid of the acidity in the vinegar," he says.

Sure enough, the tang of vinegar has been muted. In its place, the unexpectedly nutty notes of sunflower oil, and the sweet, slightly rude crunch of onions. It seems to have worked some magic on the texture–they're decidedly perkier than they were "fresh" out of the jar.

With a little prodding, I'm told the mushrooms are called maslayata in Russian, or "buttery ones." Somewhere in translation they've become "Slippery Jacks" and "Sticky Buns"—due, presumably, to the fact that even the freshly gathered mushrooms have sticky caps.

"Mushrooms," my friend proudly announces, "are the great equalizer. In olden days, when the rich feasted on meat and the poor scraped by on buckwheat, mushrooms were accessible to all and took pride of place on the tables of nobility and peasantry alike."

I cannot taste the prized butteryness, and since they're preserved in vinegar, the olfactory hit I get is one note. I'm sure he'll wave his hand dismissively and "bah" me when he reads this, but I can't help but think the regular "home brand" canned mushrooms we get at the supermarket would serve perfectly well in this "salad."

What's promising is how the time spent frolicking in oil has virtually eliminated the vinegar's piquancy and livened up the otherwise pallid 'shrooms. Would it work with other pickles—artichoke hearts, for instance? How about pickled baby beetroot?

And the spices? I know one of them is mustard seed, but I cannot, for the life and Googling skills of me, identify the little brown ones. Guys?

About the author: Wan Yan Ling is an impoverished grad student and sourdough finger-crosser living in Rhode Island. She can usually be found in the kitchen procrastinating on "real work" or online tracking down obscure recipes. Ling thinks eating alone is no fun, and she still believes in hand-mixing. More Grocery Ninja this way »

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