During the four-month rainy season in the hills of Coorg (southern Karnataka), most people get their food by foraging in the dense forests that surround the rice fields and the massive coffee plantations. It is an age-old tradition followed by the rich and poor alike. It is at this time of year that delicacies such as wild mushrooms, young bamboo shoots, unfurled colocasia leaves, and ferns suddenly become available.
It is also a tradition, certainly among the landed gentry, to take some of the larger mushrooms, such as the aalandi kumme or the plate-sized nethelé kumme, and hold them over a wood fire with tongs until they are well singed. They then dress them with crushed green chilies, lime juice, and salt and serve them with drinks. Even the juice left behind in the serving plate is delicious.
Needless to say, I cannot get the mushrooms that grow in Coorg, so I buy large portobello mushrooms. You can also use large porcinis, if available. They can be cooked on a barbecue in the summer, but I use my oven all year round.
I sometimes serve these snacks with drinks, cutting the mushrooms into wedges and inserting a cocktail stick into each one. I also serve them as a first course—one large mushroom per person, with a small portion of Cherry Tomato Salad with Curry Leaves, both on the same plate.
From Kaveri Ponnapa.
4 portobello mushrooms (12–13 oz), with large caps, each about 5–6 inches in diameter (use smaller mushrooms if large ones are not available)
2 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
4 teaspoons lime juice, or to taste
2 fresh hot green chilies, pounded to a paste in a mortar, or 1–2 generous pinches of nice red chili powder (such as Kashmiri)
1. Preheat the broiler until very hot, making sure the shelf is 4–5 inches away from the source of the heat.
2. Break off and discard the mushroom stems. Wipe the caps with a damp paper towel and leave to dry for 5 minutes. Put the caps, gill side up, on a baking sheet. Brush all the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Place under the broiler for about 1 1/2 minutes or until well singed. Turn the caps over. Brush with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and broil for another 1 1/2 minutes.
3. Transfer the mushrooms to a large plate, placing them gill side up again. Sprinkle with half the salt, half the lime juice, and half the chili paste or powder. Spread gently with your fingers. Turn the mushrooms over and sprinkle the remaining seasonings on the top in exactly the same way. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Excerpted from Vegetarian India by Madhur Jaffrey. Copyright © 2015 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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