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Vegan Month Year Two is nearly drawing to a close, but this time there's a significant difference: my wife has decided that she will continue to be strictly vegetarian after the month is over, adding dairy and eggs back to her diet, but staying off the meat and the fish.
As her husband, what this really means is that most of this month has been about me tinkering with her favorite foods, attempting to create vegan or vegetarian versions of them that are as interesting, delicious, and satisfying (if not more delicious) as the real deal. Coming up close to the top of that list? Carpaccio.
It's one of those dishes that if I see it on a menu when we go out, I instantly know what we're going to be having as our appetizer, no questions asked. I'll order it before she even has a chance to speak to the waiter.
Truth be told, as with Mexican tortas, the actual meat in a carpaccio is largely beside the point. Ultra-thin-sliced meat is not the most flavorful ingredient you can find, particularly not when it's made with the common modern choice of beef tenderloin. Really, the meat serves as an interesting textural vector for the olive oil, lemon, and black pepper.
The idea for using a marinated mushroom in place of the meat came from an exceptional vegan meal we had at Kajitsu, a restaurant specializing in shojin ryori (Japanese Buddhist monk cuisine) in New York's East Village. Our first course was a sashimi of miso-marinated king oyster mushroom. The 'shroom was marinated in a miso-based sauce overnight, then briefly deep fried, before being simmered in a soy and sea kelp-flavored broth. It was then chilled, sliced, and served with baby ginger (myoga), fresh wasabi, and pickled plums. Incredibly delicious.
The miso marinade was what really sold me. It added a rich, meaty flavor to the mushroom that pushed it from "gee, that's delicious" territory into "why the heck aren't all my mushrooms marinated like this?" land.
For my own version, I use a miso marinade that I modified from my 5-Minute Miso-Glazed Salmon recipe, replacing the Japanese sake with some lemon juice to keep the flavors more in-line with tradition. Rather than use tough-to-find king oysters, I went with standard portobellos. I tried frying the mushrooms, but it proved more work and mess than it was worth. Roasting them in the oven post-marinade worked just fine.
These marinated caps, incidentally, would work great on the grill and are tasty in sandwiches as-is.
The only real trick was slicing them thin enough. This is a recipe where you'll need a sharp knife. Cutting the caps on an acute bias will help you get the thin, wide strips you're after for nice presentation. Cutting super thin will also help compensate for the few slices you're going to inevitably pop back as you work. They're incredibly rich and tasty. But you're doing yourself a disservice—they really come alive when dressed carpaccio style.
The rest was easy. I drizzled the mushrooms with some really good olive oil (in this case I used a spicy, grassy variety my wife and I brought back from a recent trip to Sicily), squeezed some more lemon over them, sprinkled them with lemon zest, black pepper, and coarse sea salt, then topped the whole thing with some dressed spicy greens.
To really bring a touch of elegance to the table, I added a sprinkling of toasted and roughly ground pistachios as well. Think of them as a necktie for your mushrooms.
I've still got some work to do if I'm going to keep feeding my wife year-round on vegetarian fare, but this should be enough to tide her over for at least a couple months.
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