There are trays of mushrooms in the shops – craggy-capped shiitake, brown and white chestnut, oyster mushrooms like Chinese soup spoons and chanterelles the colour of ripe apricots. I particularly like the shimeji mushrooms that grow in clusters, their soft brown caps and thin stems huddled together. I cut off threads from their spongy base and separate them, tossing them in melted butter, parsley and lemon juice or adding them to sticky rice – the sort you use for sushi.
For dinner earlier this week we ate sushi rice stirred into a paste of spinach, roasted cashews and red curry paste. The seasoning was mild, a soft red-brown warmth – and the texture as soothing as a spoonful of porridge. We added our mushrooms to this – a mixture of oyster, chestnut and shimeji (though we could have used any) – fried quickly with a handful of parsley.
At the fishmonger’s, I found net bags of mussels – neat, cheap and full of potential. There are few more downright delicious suppers than mussels you have tossed with spaghetti and shredded red chillies, but this week I added the shellfish to a turmeric yellow soup made with cod cheeks and a few prawns. It was raining and the temperature had taken a bit of a dive, so the recipe took the spicy route with ground chilli, mustard seed and garam masala. As the rain lashed the kitchen skylights, I stirred in a little coconut milk.
A stew, but one that can be eaten from a bowl like a fish soup or spooned into a mound of steamed rice. There is a little warmth here, from both the fresh chillies and the ground spice, which you can tweak to your own taste. Check the mussels carefully before cooking, pulling off any “beards”, discarding any that have cracked shells or fail to immediately close when tapped firmly on the sink. Serves 4
onions 2, medium
vegetable oil a little
cod cheeks or haddock fillet 400g, cubed
mussels 500g, cleaned
mustard seeds 1 tsp
red chillies 2 or 3, medium hot
garam masala 1 tsp
ground turmeric 1 tsp
mild ground chilli 1 tsp
coconut milk 100ml
Peel the onions and roughly chop them. Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a deep casserole over a low to moderate heat, then add the onions and cook for about 20 minutes until pale gold.
Scrupulously remove any skin and bones from the fish, then cut into large chunks. Clean the mussels.
Sprinkle the mustard seeds into the onions, then seed and chop the chillies and add them, too. Continue cooking, stirring in the ground spices until you have a fragrant and warmly scented base to which to add the rest of the ingredients.
Chop the tomatoes – you can remove the seeds if you want to, but I don’t think it is important – then stir them into the spiced onions, letting them cook for 5 minutes or so until soft and squashy. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Slide in the prepared cod cheeks or haddock and the prawns. Simmer for 6 or 7 minutes until the prawns are pink and the fish is opaque.
While the fish cooks put the cleaned and checked mussels into a deep pan over a moderate heat, add a couple of tbsp of water and bring to the boil, covered tightly with a lid. Cook for 2 minutes or until the shells have opened. Immediately remove from the heat and pull the mussels from their shells. When the fish is cooked, add the mussels to the stew.
Stir in the coconut milk, simmer for a minute or two, then check the seasoning – it will need a little salt – and serve.
sticky (sushi) rice 200g
bay leaves 2
black peppercorns 8
spinach leaves 100g
roasted cashews 75g
Thai red curry paste 50g
groundnut oil 100ml
mixed mushrooms 250g
parsley a good handful, chopped
dill 10g (a small bunch), chopped
Put the sushi rice in a medium saucepan – I use one that is 22cm in diameter – pour over 400ml of warm water, then set aside for 30 minutes.
Place the pan over a moderate heat, add half a teaspoon of salt, the bay leaves and whole black peppercorns. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cover with a tight lid. Leave the rice to cook for 12 minutes, then remove from the heat, leaving the lid in place.
Wash and dry the spinach leaves. Using a food processor, make a paste of the roasted salted cashews, the spinach leaves, the Thai red curry paste and the groundnut oil.
Sort through the mushrooms, separating the larger, tougher ones from those that are more delicate. Slice the thicker varieties. In a wide, shallow-sided pan, warm a little more oil, then add the sliced mushrooms. Turn them after a couple of minutes, removing them to kitchen paper when they are pale gold in colour. Add the fragile varieties to the pan and continue cooking for a minute or two, until they are golden. Remove the mushrooms and add the spice paste to the pan and, over a moderate heat, fry for a minute or two, stirring regularly.
Stir the cooked rice into the spice paste and cook for a few minutes until the spinach is soft and darker green in colour. Add the parsley, dill and mushrooms to the pan and serve.
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The Observer aims to publish recipes for fish rated as sustainable by the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide