Since I ate meat on and off until I was in my mid-20s, I have lots of memories associated with eating animal-based foods. So when I make plant-based versions of those dishes, coaxing out similar aromas, textures and flavors is more about extracting those memories and sensory experiences than it is about the ingredients themselves. For me, then, barbeque isn’t really about pork, it doesn’t matter what’s inside a gyoza and cheese is all about fat and balance—and really has nothing to do with dairy itself. Simply put, veganizing a dish is a way to reconnect to those positive sensory memories that I’ve often tucked away and forgotten about over the years.
This past weekend, I made this oyster mushroom dish based on a mussels appetizer I remember ordering and eating often during my early 20s. At that time, I remember not being so sure about what I wanted to do with my life, and worked as a waitress in a sushi bar while I tried to figure it all out. During the year and a half that I was there, I not only served lots of sushi, but also was constantly around and ate a lot of it. Most nights I served it in tatami rooms or at the sushi bar in the restaurant I worked at, and ended my evenings going out to a smaller sushi bar nearby with coworkers for drinks and appetizers.
One of the dishes that we’d always order was dynamite mussels, which are basically mussels slathered with a Kewpie mayo and hot sauce, then baked until neon orange and bubbly. Eating this veganized version of that dish brought back memories of sitting at that small but cozy sushi bar with friends after our shift was over, and recall little details like the curve of a sake cup on the table and the way the prominent “H” on the front window decal was half peeled off but never replaced.
As we sat looking out of that window onto the street, we would share stories about weird, funny or rude customers we had waited on that evening. Sometimes the conversation would slowly drift into Japanese, but I never minded—I loved listening to the cadence and flow of it, like a song I could hum to, although I didn’t know most of the words. Even though I was very uncertain about my life at that time, it somehow seemed okay during those late evenings in front of that window, surrounded by the laughter and warmth of friends.
BAKED OYSTER MUSHROOMS WITH DYNAMITE SAUCE
Yield 2 servings
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 medium shallot, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
- 8 oyster mushrooms, tough stems removed (reserve the stems for making homemade stock later)
- 1/4 teaspoon of crushed nori (about 1/4 sheet) (I used a coffee grinder to crush it)
- 3-4 teaspoons Vegenaise
- 1-2 teaspoons sriracha
- Preheat your oven to 450.
- Divide the toasted sesame oil into two, 3 1/2-inch cast iron skillets, turning them to ensure the oil completely covers the bottom. Then, place two teaspoons of the shallots into each skillet, dividing them evenly across the surface.
- Place two of the destemmed oyster mushrooms into each skillet, gill side up. Sprinkle the crushed nori evenly over the mushrooms, then place the remaining four oyster mushrooms over the top, gill side down, to create a mussel-like shape.
- Combine the Vegenaise and sriracha together, adjusting the heat level as you’d like, then smother a heaping teaspoon over each “mussel” you’ve created.
- Place the skillets onto a baking sheet and bake for 10-14 minutes, or until brilliantly orange and bubbly.
- You can also easily double this recipe using a 5-inch cast iron pan and increasing the bake time by a few minutes as needed. Allow the mushrooms to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving straight out of the pan.