Tandoori-Rubbed Portobellos with Cool Cilantro Sauce

Laura Wright

This main looks deceptively meaty on the plate, and it satisfies on the same level. I buy a tandoori spice mixture from a local company, and the intense spicy flavor of it meets its match with rich, unctuous portobello mushrooms cooked on the grill. The cool cilantro sauce offers a creamy counterpoint and is entirely sunflower-seed based. Cashews tend to be the go-to for creamy vegan sauces, but I find sunflower seeds to be just as effective, and as a bonus, they’re typically more affordable.

If you don’t have access to a grill, you can certainly roast the marinated mushrooms in a 400°F (200°C) oven for 20 minutes, and then finish them under the broiler for 1 minute per side for a similar effect.

The First Mess CookbookThe First Mess Cookbook
by Laura Wright


Cool Cilantro Sauce

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) raw sunflower seeds, soaked for at least 4 hours
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (50 mL + 30 mL) filtered water
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated with a Microplane grater
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 green onion, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper, to taste


  • 4 large portobello mushroom caps
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) tandoori spice blend
  • 1-inch (2.5 cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated with a Microplane grater
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated with a Microplane grater
  • salt and pepper, to taste

For serving

  • warm cooked brown rice
  • chopped fresh cilantro leaves


1. Make the Cool Cilantro Sauce: Drain the sunflower seeds and transfer them to a blender. Add the filtered water, garlic, lime juice, and olive oil. Whiz the mixture on high until you have a mostly smooth purée. Stop to scrape down the sides or add another tablespoon of water if necessary. Scrape the sauce base out of the blender into a small bowl. Stir in the cilantro, green onions, salt, and pepper. Cover and place in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.

2. Preheat a grill to high.

3. Prepare the portobellos: Take the portobello mushroom caps and, using a spoon, scrape out the gills—the dark brown strips that line the underside of the mushroom. Transfer the scraped mushrooms to a plate.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, tandoori spice, ginger, garlic, salt, and pepper. Rub this wet spice mixture on both sides of the portobello mushrooms.

5. Lightly rub some oil on the grill with a wad of paper towel. Place the spice-rubbed portobello caps on the grill and close the lid. Let the portobellos cook for 4 minutes, then flip them over. Cook for another 4 minutes. The mushrooms should be tender, be lightly glistening, and have char marks on both sides. Remove from the grill.

6. Slice the grilled portobellos, and serve with cool cilantro sauce, warm rice, and extra chopped cilantro.

* * *

Reprinted from The First Mess Cookbook by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2017, Laura Wright

Cook time: 
Serves 4
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