I’ve long said that some of the best vegetarian cooking in the country happens at restaurants that are anything but vegetarian.
How did they get such a concentration of flavor into those mushrooms?
Years later, this spring, when I opened the restaurant’s newly published cookbook, it practically fell open onto the spread with the kebab recipe. The same day, a colleague messaged me to say: Did you see these mushrooms in “Bavel”?
The secret to those mushrooms, it turns out, is pretty simple: They’re packed onto skewers, generously oiled, sprinkled with a little salt, pepper and sumac, and grilled over a medium charcoal fire until they shrink, soften and concentrate. The oil dripping from the grates creates the smoke that flavors them.
Meanwhile, there’s that puree. At Bavel, it was made with lovage, which author-owners Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis describe in the cookbook as “a minerally, almost salty green that tastes like a mix between overgrown parsley and celery leaves.”
I’ve had lovage a few times and can attest to its deliciousness, but unless you’re growing it (or know somebody who is), it’s pretty hard to come by. So for my version, I subbed in parsley — along with yogurt instead of the book’s crème fraîche and whey — and loved the result. Fresh turmeric and cardamom add earthy and sweet flavors, respectively.
The mushrooms, though, are the star. In fact, the only other change I made to the recipe was to double the quantity, because sometimes more is more.
Storage: The mushrooms are best eaten freshly made, but they can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. The puree can also be refrigerated for up to 1 week; freezing is not recommended.
- 2 cups (2 ounces) loosely packed fresh parsley (leaves and stems)
- 4 cups (5 ounces) packed baby spinach leaves
- 2/3 cup plain whole milk yogurt (may substitute nondairy yogurt of your choice)
- 1 (2-inch) piece fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- Water, if needed
- 2 pounds oyster mushrooms
- 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground sumac, divided
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and fill a large bowl with ice water. Blanch the parsley in the boiling water for 2 minutes, then add the spinach and blanch both together for another 2 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the greens to the ice water and leave until they are cool enough to handle. Drain the greens in a colander or fine-mesh strainer, removing any ice. Using your hands, form the greens into a ball and squeeze out as much water as possible. Transfer the ball to a kitchen towel, and wring it out until the greens are almost completely dry.
Transfer the greens to a blender and add the yogurt, turmeric, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and the cardamom and puree until smooth. (Add water, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, if needed, to help the mixture blend.)
If using a charcoal grill, fill a chimney starter with charcoal, light it, and when the coals are red hot, dump them into your grill. Add more charcoal. When all the coals have ashed over and are gray but are still very hot, about 15 minutes, your grill should be medium hot. (Use a grill thermometer or test the heat by holding your hand, palm-down about 5 inches from the grill. If you can hold it there for 4 to 5 seconds, the heat should be medium heat, or 350 to 450 degrees. Alternatively you can cook these on a gas grill or on a stove-top grill pan.)
Slice the mushrooms off their cluster, leaving a very small amount of stem intact. Using four metal or water-soaked wooden skewers, thread the mushrooms through the stems, gill-side down, alternating the tops of the mushrooms from left to right so they cook evenly. You should end up with four full skewers.
Brush the mushrooms with a generous amount of oil to coat, making sure to oil the gills. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of the sumac.
Grill the mushrooms for 2 minutes, then flip the skewers and continue to grill, flipping every 2 minutes, until the edges start to curl and brown, the mushrooms have shrunk significantly, and the stems are soft to the touch, about 8 minutes total.
Spread the puree evenly on a platter. Lightly dust the puree with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of sumac, place the mushroom skewers on top (or remove the mushrooms from the skewers, if desired, and place over the puree), and serve warm or at room temperature.
Per serving (1 skewer, 1/3 cup puree)
Calories: 369; Total Fat: 30 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 7 mg; Sodium: 698 mg; Carbohydrates: 20 g; Dietary Fiber: 7 g; Sugar: 6 g; Protein: 11 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
Adapted from “Bavel” by Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis (Ten Speed Press, 2021).
Tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to email@example.com.
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