Portobello mushrooms are often disparaged as an easy, boring stand-in for meat when cooking vegetarian meals. Among the all of the bland mushroom "burgers," it's easy to forget one of the portobello's most useful characteristics—its stuffability. Take, for instance, the stuffed mushrooms from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Ottolenghi cookbook. They braise the caps with a mixture of butter, wine, thyme, and garlic. Over the slow cooking time, the mushrooms absorb every last nuance of the braising liquid, emerging tender and fragrant. Pearled barley, tangy preserved lemon, and salty feta make up the bulk of the stuffing, and the final dish is crowned with a flurry of sprouts.
Why I picked this recipe: Stuffed mushrooms simply don't get enough attention. It's time to correct that.
What worked: The feta and preserved lemon were a particularly smart inclusion here, as their sharp saltiness tempered the deep, earthy notes of the braised mushrooms.
What didn't: I thought the proportion of barley to broth was off. I didn't need nearly that much broth or that long of a cooking time to turn the barley tender. You should safely be able to cut back to 2 cups of broth, and you can cook the barley for 30 to 45 minutes.
Suggested tweaks: If you want to make these gluten-free, you could use quinoa or millet in place of the barley. (The cooking times will change accordingly.) If you can't find preserved lemons, you can substitute the zest of one lemon and increase the amount of salt in the stuffing. I used pea sprouts instead of the basil or radish sprouts. They weren't purple, but they still added a nice crisp contrast to the dish.
About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, KQED's Bay Area Bites, and Berkeleyside NOSH. Follow her @KateHWiliams.