Charred king trumpet mushrooms with braised lentils
Wandering through the farmers market on a recent Saturday, in search of springtime inspiration, I gravitated towards the mushrooms at the Springwater Farm booth. The name of the farm alone evokes the coming season! Springwater Farm is a longtime vendor of both cultivated and wild mushroom varieties; I have relied on Roger and Norma, his wife, to provide me with foraged fungi for many years. Combing the West from the Pacific Ocean all the way to Montana and up to British Columbia, Roger and Norma count on a wide range of pickers to supply them and their customers.
I don't often purchase cultivated mushrooms from Springwater, but I was happy to learn that the farm grows king trumpet mushrooms, which are featured in this salad. Also referred to as "French horn" and "king oyster," king trumpet mushrooms are firm and dense, which is how I landed on the idea of using a hot skillet to brown them. With this method, I imagined I could achieve steak-like texture--and flavor--in the cooked mushroom. And I did. In fact, this dense mushroom comes the closest, in my mind, to resembling the texture and flavor of animal protein.
Given the meaty qualities of king trumpets, lentils provide the perfect earthy base, and allow the dish to straddle the seasons. Choose your favorite: petite French or Le Puy, green, brown, even red. The technique used to cook the lentil does not change with the variety, only the time it takes for them to soften. Red lentils cook quickly, much like the yellow or green varieties used for soup. Whatever variety you choose, allow at least 30 minutes for the lentils to cook.
This recipe calls for vegetable broth to cook the lentils, but mushroom, chicken, or a light beef broth work equally well. How you develop the flavor further depends on which diced vegetables you choose; celery and parsnips are different but good additions, as are fresh herbs with a pronounced flavor, like sage and thyme.
Makes 4 servings
1 large shallot, finely minced
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into medium dice
1/4 bulb fennel, peeled and cut into medium dice
1 cup small brown lentils
4 cups vegetable stock
4 large king trumpet mushrooms, cleaned and cut in quarters
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of spring greens, such as arugula, baby kale or spinach
Parmesan cheese, optional
Prepare the lentils. Place the diced shallot, carrot and fennel in a heavy bottomed sauté pan. Add a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup water to prevent the vegetables from browning in the early stages of cooking, and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the lentils and 2 cups of the stock. Return the liquid to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the stock is absorbed. Add more stock and seasoning, tasting as you go. If the lentils require more than 4 cups total, supplement with water to finish cooking. Remember to taste the lentils as they cook, and allow them time to soften.
Toss the mushrooms with the oil and generous pinch of salt. Heat a cast iron skillet or other heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms to the pan, cut sides down, and brown for 3 to 4 minutes on one side before turning them over to brown on the other cut side; the mushrooms won't soften much. The dark color is key to imparting earthly flavor to this dish. When the mushrooms are dark golden brown, remove them to a plate lined with a paper towel.
To finish the lentils, add the butter and parsley, tossing to combine. Taste the lentils again, and season as needed, with freshly ground black pepper and/or some lemon juice or a splash of vinegar for a bit of acidity.
To serve, spoon the lentils onto a platter and top with the arugula or other greens. Arrange the mushrooms on top of the greens and finish with some shaved Parmesan cheese if a bit more salt or another layer of savory flavor is desired.