When we committed to going to the ocean, I immediately felt the thrilling sensation that washes over me when I stand at the intersection of land meeting water. I smelled brine and dampness. I saw certain patterns and colours; light sand against dark water, wet stones, seaweed, driftwood, and feathers.
This was the second recipe I created for the dreamy on-location photoshoot with Christiann Koepke back in October (you can see the first one here). The inspiration for this dish came first in fact, fast and furiously. Just thinking about the seaside brought this recipe to me in a wave of total inspiration. I wanted the ingredients to reflect the elements in this environment, and for the final result to be a visual meeting of land and sea.
Now I’m not super into “fake meat”, but there is something undeniably satisfying about tricking someone into thinking a vegetable is flesh. Tee hee. Plus, Rene Redzepi does it all the time, so maybe it puts me in the cool cooking club too? Yes? Anyway, I knew something on the plate had to look like seafood, and I had my sights set on scallops. In my first cookbook, I made “scallops” out of leeks, and wanted to try something different, so going through the rolodex of tube-shaped white veggies in my mind, I fell upon king oyster mushroom stems. Naturally. Browned in ghee and well-seasoned, I knew that these morsels would look exactly like mollusks, and taste deceptively meaty.
A pool of herbaceous, vibrant green pesto, would be the land, and the perfect resting place for my mushroom medallions. I combined flat-leaf parsley and spinach to create a bright yet balanced sauce that complimented – rather than overwhelmed – the rest of the dish. But with all this creaminess, I knew that I also needed to include something for textural contrast, so toasted hazelnuts became the beach stones, along with fried capers, which added a bite of seaside brine.
This dish is surprisingly easy to make, and it is the prefect main to serve for family and friends that you want to spoil a little. It looks impressive, but it’s a cinch to get on the table without gluing you to the stove. The pesto can be made a week in advance (although the fresher, the better), so that the only thing you need to do before serving is cook the mushroom and capers, and warm the pesto a little. I love cooking the capers and mushrooms in ghee (recipe here) because it’s just so darn delicious, but the pesto is vegan and if you want the entire meal to be so, simply swap out the ghee for expeller-pressed coconut oil, which is refined for high heat cooking and has no tropical aroma.
Edible mushrooms are both medical and nutritional dynamos. Collectively, they not only provide us with plant-based protein, vitamin D, and a whole host of minerals, but most excitingly a group of polysaccharides called beta-glucans. These complex, hemicellulose sugar molecules enhance the functioning of the immune system by activating immune cell response and stimulating the production of white blood cells. These compounds also effectively mobilize immune stem cells in your bone marrow, and exhibit anti-tumor properties, so they’re often used supplementally in cancer treatment protocols.
Beta-glucans help to lower cholesterol, as this type of fiber forms a viscous gel during digestion, which grabs a hold of excess dietary cholesterol, prevents absorption by moving it through your digestive tract, and eliminates it. Through your poop! This same gel also slows down your digestion, which in turn stabilizes blood sugar, and minimizes the release of insulin.
King oyster mushrooms are of course a good source of beta-glucans, but you can get them in other places too: barley, oats, sorghum, mushrooms like shiitake, reishi and maitake, as well as seaweed, algae, and dates.
I wouldn’t put king oyster mushrooms in the “specialty” category of fungi, but I also know that they’re not available at every grocery store, so if you can’t find them, substitute with any other kind of mushroom you like and forgo the whole “scallop” charade. The dish will still turn out delicious, I promise.
If you want to change up the herb in the pesto, try basil instead of flat-leaf parsley. Cilantro could also be delicious, but potentially overwhelming, so use more spinach in that case. And instead of hazelnuts in the pesto and garnish, try almonds, pecans or walnuts. Yummm.
I like to serve this with a big hunk of crusty bread on the side to mop up any leftover pesto in the bowl. It also helps to have some good olive oil and flaky salt around for this situation, just sayin’. If you’d prefer the grain route, steamed brown rice, quinoa, or millet could be a decent accompaniment too. And if you want to go completely grain-free, roasted sweet potato, winter squash, or pumpkin would be totally lovely.
King Oyster Mushroom “Scallops” in a Warm Pesto Pool
1 lb. / 500g king oyster mushrooms (choose ones with fat stems)
a generous amount of ghee (or expeller-pressed coconut oil)
fine + flaky salt
1 jar brined capers (about 1/3 cup / 55g)
a handful of toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped, for garnish
1 batch Parsley-Spinach Pesto (recipe follows)
cold-pressed olive oil, for garnish
a few leaves of parsley, for garnish
1. Remove any dirt or debris from the mushrooms with your hands, or small soft brush. (do not use water!). Slice the stems into enough rounds so that each person has 5 or 6. Keep the caps for another dish.
2. Drain the capers and pat them dry with a clean tea towel or paper towel. Heat about a tablespoon of ghee (or coconut oil) in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the capers and fry until split and crisp – about 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
3. Add more ghee (or coconut oil) to the same skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the sliced mushroom stems, a sprinkle of flaky salt, and cook on one side until golden, about 5-7 minutes. Then flip and cook on the other side until golden. Work in batches or use separate skillets – if you crowd the mushrooms they will steam each other and get soggy. That is not what we’re after!
4. While you’re cooking the mushrooms, place the pesto in a small saucepan, add a touch of water to thin, if desired, and warm over low-medium heat. Do not boil!
5. To serve, place about ¼ cup / 60ml of the warm pesto in the bottom of a dish, spreading it out to make an indent in the center. Place 5 or 6 mushroom stems in the pesto, then top with the fried capers and toasted hazelnuts. Drizzle with olive oil and a few grinds of black pepper. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.
Makes about 2¼ cups
1 cup / 150g hazelnuts
1 fat clove garlic
2 cups / 35g flat-leaf parsley, lightly packed (tender stems only)
2 cups / 65g baby spinach, lightly packed
zest of 1 organic lemon
⅓ cup/ 80ml freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
¼ cup / 60ml cold-pressed olive oil
½ cup / 35g nutritional yeast
½ tsp. fine sea salt
½ cup / 125ml water, more if needed
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place hazelnuts on baking sheet. Toast in oven for 12-15 minutes or until fragrant and lightly toasted. Remove and set aside. Once cool, remove skins by rubbing the hazelnuts together in your hands. Set aside.
2. Remove any tough stems from the parsley. Roughly chop the leaves and tender stems (this prevents the parsley from bruising in the food processor).
3. Place garlic in the food processor and pulse to mince. Add the hazelnuts, parsley, spinach, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, nutritional yeast, and salt. Pulse for 30 seconds, then add the water and pulse again until it’s thick, but spreadable. Remove lid and scrape. Repeat until reaches desired consistency (I like mine a little chunky, but it’s up to you!). Store leftovers in an airtight glass container in the fridge for up to one week.
We’re home from Bali now, settling back into life in the cold Canadian winter. It feels good to be here, especially after a satisfying few weeks in the sunshine, hosting two glorious retreats. Now it’s time to ground and focus on the year ahead. I’m very excited for 2019 – so many exciting things to share with you, just on the horizon.
I hope you’re all well out there, and enjoying a vibrant start to the new year. Sending love and gratitude out to you all, always.
xo, Sarah B