COOKING FOR TWO: Crispy Mushroom Larb is sweet, sour and spicy

Mushroom Larb with crisp shiitakes is salty, sweet, sour and spicy. (For The Washington Post/Rey Lopez)
Mushroom Larb with crisp shiitakes is salty, sweet, sour and spicy. (For The Washington Post/Rey Lopez)

I've been watching the new HBO series "The Last of Us," which — without giving much away — stars fungi. It pulls at a growing thread in popular culture: the elegant mystery of mushrooms. Some can kill us, some can cause hallucinations, and some are nutritious and delicious and a regular part of our diets.

The photographer and author Andrea Gentl became obsessed with mushrooms as a kid. As an adult, she indulged in her obsession while photographing the dishes chefs created with edible fungi. In her book, "Cooking With Mushrooms," she presents a cohesive and imaginative treatise on the types of mushrooms we eat. Among the many recipes in the book that caught my eye — including Miso Mushroom Paste, Salt and Pepper Brick Mushrooms and Crispy Rack of Oyster Mushrooms — was this one, for Mushroom Larb.

"Larb hits the sour, salty, sweet and spicy notes that are so specific to Southeast Asia," Gentl writes. Rather than use the usual chopped or ground meat, she uses chopped mushrooms, roasted until crisp and meaty.

I adapted Gentl's recipe slightly. First, you'll use sliced shiitakes here, which crisp nicely in the oven after getting dressed with a touch of oil, minced shallots, sliced lemongrass, chopped makrut lime leaves (if you can find them!), garlic and fish sauce.

Roast the mushrooms at a high temperature and watch as they release their moisture and turn a deep mahogany brown. While that's happening, make the nuoc cham-inspired sauce. You'll need lots of fresh lime juice, a bit of fish sauce, brown sugar and some chile-garlic sauce for a touch of heat. Finally, pluck a small handful of mint leaves and tender cilantro sprigs, and arrange leafy lettuce cups on a platter.

To serve, you'll pile the roasted mushrooms in the lettuce leaves, dress them with some of the sauce, add a few fresh herbs and eat. Much lighter than meat-based larb, Gentl describes this variation as "light as a feather" but with "a serious flavor punch."

Mushroom Larb

  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed, plus more for greasing
  • 20 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 shallot, quartered and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
  • 4 makrut lime leaves, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1 (2-inch) piece lemongrass, dry outer layer removed and thinly sliced (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce OR soy sauce OR tamari
  • For the sauce:
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 4 large limes (about 2 tablespoons lime zest and 2/ cup lime juice)
  • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce OR soy sauce OR tamari
  • 2 teaspoons chile-garlic sauce, such as sambal oelek
  • 8 large lettuce leaves, such as butter or green leaf lettuce
  • Small handful fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • Small handful fresh Thai basil leaves (can substitute with Italian basil)
  • Small handful fresh mint leaves

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 400 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, and lightly grease the foil with oil.

In a large bowl, toss together the mushrooms, shallot, garlic, lime leaves, if using, and lemongrass, if using. Add the remaining oil and fish sauce and toss thoroughly to coat. Spread the mushrooms in an even layer on the baking sheet — it's fine if they overlap — and roast for 20 minutes. Using a spatula or tongs, toss the mushrooms lightly and roast for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are well browned and crisp.

Make the sauce: Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the lime zest, juice, brown sugar, fish sauce and chile-garlic sauce.

Serve the mushrooms and sauce family-style, with lettuce leaves for scooping and stuffing and herbs and sauce for sprinkling and drizzling.

Makes 2 servings.

Recipe adapted from "Cooking With Mushrooms" by Andrea Gentl (Artisan, 2022)

Upcoming Events