My late father-in-law, an orchid fancier and cultivator of rare orchids, would have turned in his grave at the thought of feeding slugs anything other than poison. No doubt, he would also have been puzzled by a new book, due in November, titled Feeding Orchids to the Slugs written by Florencia Clifford, a Zen cook with a very different take on slugs and their place in the circle of life.
Ahead of publication about twenty members of Vala Publishing, have been invited to test Florencia’s recipes. There’s a sneak preview of some of the dishes over on Vala’s Facebook page. Here’s the one I tested:
with this recipe I had the pleasure of discovering three new ingredients (Tamari, Mirin and Lovage) in Florencia’s Mushroom and Lovage Stew:
1 punnet of button mushrooms, 4-6 Portobello mushrooms, 2 celery stalks, 3 carrots, 4 garlic cloves, 2 medium onions, 1/3 cup of Tamari sauce, 1 tbsp of Mirin, Lovage, olive oil, vegetable stock. Serves 4
Roughly chop onions, celery and carrots into chunks. Quick fry button mushrooms whole or halved, in a wok with the olive oil. Cook in small batches and remove.
Chop the large mushrooms into thick slices and cook gently, keep them on the move. Mushrooms are thirsty, top up on oil as you go, avoid overcooking, they need to stay firm at this stage.
In a large cook pot with lid, heat olive oil and gently cook onions until soft. Add carrots and celery, cover and sweat just a few minutes. Add mushrooms, then garlic, stir, add Tamari sauce and Mirin.
(Tamari is a more wholesome, unadulterated form of soy sauce (wheat free) and Mirin is a Japanese sweet rice (wine) seasoning, apparently ideal for sushi and tempura dishes.)
Now is the time to add the vegetable stock, how much depends on whether you prefer your stew with more or less liquid. I added enough so the top layer of vegetables were just above the sauce. Tamari is already salty so taste the veg stock for saltiness and dilute as you like. Bring up to heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Check the carrot and celery to see if cooked but not too soft.
Allow to rest awhile before serving and allow the flavours to sip into each other and the juices to become inky. Add fresh or dried Lovage before serving.
In my neck of the woods I didn’t find lovage, dried or fresh. Thankfully, Vala’s resourceful editor, Sarah sent a small consignment in the post from Bristol.
Having already put the word out a friend discovered a single plant, pot bound and struggling for life in a local garden centre and brought it round in the middle of my recipe testing. How’s that for timing?
I’m glad I got to taste it fresh, the flavour is like celery only sweeter. The roots can be eaten like a vegetable or grated on salad. It’s a vigorous perennial and needs a lot of growing room. I added about half of this packet to the stew but couldn’t really taste it; a handful of chopped fresh Lovage would complement and balance the strength of flavours exceptionally well.
Making Florencia’s recipe has been a lovely collaborative, co-operative triumph (in the true spirit of Vala publishing) and, as for the finished dish, I have to say I was skeptical about calling it a stew, when it has no meat. But this is a delicious, rich, flavoursome meal without the heaviness of meat. The combination of two different mushrooms provides interesting textures, as well as structure and picks up on all the complex flavours from the Tamari and Mirin. I should also add, get hold of the best quality olive oil you can afford as the mushrooms are greedy consumers of whatever you throw at them and you will be able to taste, and see the difference.
I will be adding this recipe to my list of favourite hearty meals; it would go well with a big dollop of creamy mashed potatoes served in winter. Can’t wait to see this recipe in Florencia’s book and discover what really goes on with those slugs!