Mushrooms, even bog-standard supermarket buttons, have a delicate taste, so it may seem illogical to pair them with warm and assertive spices. But if you use your spices with a light hand, and allow the forest-floor flavours of the mushrooms to shine gently in the background, you will be amazed at how good lightly curried (and very creamy) mushrooms can be. This dish makes a lovely mid-week meal, and is very good for breakfast.
This dish is inspired by a curried mushroom soup my late mother-in-law Audrey Rayner used to make; the recipe came from a fine book called The Old Cape Farmstall Cookbook (by Judy Badenhorst and others).
I pored over this book when I was learning to cook in my twenties, but of course someone has nicked my copy, so I can’t give you the original recipe. I do miss it, because it is such an honest cookbook, and one refreshingly of its time. In the early 1980s, the Old Cape Farm Stall in Constantia was a genuine farm shop with no foodier-than-thou pretensions, selling tubs of wondrous home-made things you just didn’t see on supermarket shelves – exotic veggies, newfangled hummous, brilliant chicken-liver and snoek pâté and warm wholewheat loaves. No picnic at Kalk Bay or Cecilia Forest or Llandudno was considered complete without a trip to the Old Cape Farm Stall to stock up.
But back to the mushrooms. You can make an okay version by frying the mushrooms, tossing in a teaspoon or two of mild curry powder and stirring in some cream, but it is best with a more subtle blend of very fresh spices. I always use Rajah medium-strength curry powder because it has a generic taste that reminds me of the curries of my childhood. A good Spanish paprika makes all the difference – the stuff you buy in bottles at the supermarket is a puny substitute. I am a devotee of La Dalia sweet Pimentón de la Vera, which you can buy in tins at good delis and specialist suppliers.
This is excellent with crisp toast, and very nice too wrapped in warmed naan breads.
If you like the idea of curried mushrooms, try my piquant mushrooms: Devilled Mushrooms on Toast, Downton Abbey, and devilish old recipes
Creamed Curried Mushrooms on Toast
1 kg (4 punnets) portebellini and button mushrooms, or mushrooms of your choice
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
2 tsp (10 ml) mustard seeds
8 dried curry leaves
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cumin
½ tsp (2.5 ml) coriander powder
½ tsp (2.5 ml) good, fresh paprika
1 tsp (5 ml) medium-strength curry powder
½ cup (125 ml) cream
lemon juice, to taste
fresh coriander or flat-leaf parsley, to garnish
Wipe the mushrooms and cut them in half if they are very large. Heat the oil in a large pot and add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. When the seeds begin to crackle, add all the mushrooms and cook, over a medium-high heat, for about 10 minutes, or until the juices are running freely and the mushrooms are soft. Add the grated garlic and cook for another minute, and then add the spices and cream. Let the mushrooms bubble for a few more minutes. When the liquid has reduced and thickened slightly, the mushrooms are ready.
Add a squeeze of lemon juice (just enough to give the dish a pleasant zing), dust with a whisper of paprika and serve immediately on hot toast, with a shower of chopped coriander or parsley.
Serves 4 as a meal; 6 as a snack.