It is overcast, and not especially warm. I take stock of my cupboards, seeking a comforting mid-morning snack. Something savoury and definitely Burmese. There is nothing that shouts ‘eat me’. I decide to make something.
A large bag of dried shiitake mushrooms have been sitting patiently on the bottom shelf. They have a delightful earthiness that you get from wild mushrooms, gorgeous smoky flavour and meaty texture.
I bought these a few months ago wanting to try the vegetarian version of ngapi kyaw. With the success of Vegetarian mohingar, I had asked my mother for more recipes that she has not cooked in years. She remembered her sister making the crispy mushroom condiment, a recipe that must have come from the nuns of a monastery.
My mother explained that the nuns, who are vegetarians, would use dried mushrooms daily in their cooking but would remove the stalks which tended to be hard and woody even after soaking. These stalks were allowed to dry in the sun and kept until there was sufficient amount to make crispy mushroom condiment.
Building up my collection of stalks is a slow process as I do not regularly cook dried mushrooms. To help this situation, I decide to de-stalk the remaining mushrooms. First the mushrooms are soaked in cold water rather than hot water for 20 minutes, not wanting to drain away any of the flavour.
Then the stalks are placed on a tray and put in the oven, set at a low temperature, to dry again. Wanting that floss-like texture, I spend a number of minutes pounding the stalks in the pestle and mortar.
Although the actual cooking does not take long, by the time the jar is full, mid-morning snack turns into lunch; Sliced freshly baked bread with a layer of cucumber, generous spoonfuls of crispy mushroom and a squeeze of lemon juice. We eat slice after slice until both Christopher and I are satisfied we have done some justice to this moreish condiment.
50g dried mushroom stalks
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced lengthways
2 teaspoons crushed dried chillies
½ teaspoon sugar
pinch of salt
peanut oil to fry garlic & shallots
Once the mushroom stalks are dried again after re-hydrating, grind in a pestle and mortar until they resemble feather-like strands or floss. You can indeed use a food processor and blitz into a coarse powder.
Heat plenty of oil in a saucepan and fry the shallots until golden brown. Do the same for the garlic. Drain the shallots and garlic on kitchen paper. Taking 2 to 3 tablespoons of the fried oil, heat in a frying pan. Add the mushroom floss and stir continuously so it does not burn. Once the mushroom has turned golden brown, add the dried chillies, sugar and salt.
Continue to stir until the chillies are fragrant. Return the fried shallots and garlic to the frying pan. Mix through the mushroom floss and remove from the heat. When cooled, pour into a glass jar and keep in the fridge until needed. Similar to ngapi kyaw, this is excellent on rice, toast, noodles, vegetables – everything!
Makes: a small jar
Cooking time: 15 mins