I had a whole recipe in mind for you with a creative twist on mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes with whole grain mustard and thyme, paired with marinated mushrooms. I suspect I’ll still make that dish, but as I was thinking about it, I got a phone call. While everyone in my life is fine, the phone call threw me off my axis. With my whole world off-kilter, I no longer felt up for the adventurous new recipe, and I needed an old comfortable standby in my kitchen instead.
When I was in Boston over Christmas, my father gave me my great-grandmother’s potato masher. He suspects she bought it back in 1925, and he tells me that the whole handle used to be painted blue. A tiny patch of blue paint still colors the very top of the handle, but the rest has worn down to wood from years of use. We take potatoes very seriously in my family, and a massive dish of mashed potatoes graces every extended family function, mashed together with tons of butter and love (and really, aren’t those the same thing?)
Comfort food comes in all flavors. Some comfort food is a dish a loved one makes for you. Sometimes it’s the familiar takeout order that will arrive quickly, with no effort on your part, and tastes just exactly as you need it too. This little dish is comfort food for me because I’ve made it so often, and it tastes mostly like the childhood version I grew up with. The taste memory sends me back to Christmases and Thanksgivings, to the kids’ table and cups of sparkling cider clutched in chubby little hands. I needed the comfort of the familiar recipe to take my mind off the phone call, the chopping and stirring and mashing being the best kind of work, physical, but useful and resulting in something edible at the end.
Somewhere along the way, kale become another comfort food for me. Perhaps because the kale trees growing in our garden are so impressive to me, and so persistent, determinedly out surviving the slugs and the aphids for months now. The best grocery store in the world can’t possibly replace the novelty of walking out your back door and pulling some leaves for dinner.
The gravy is truly the best part of this dish, though I assure my family members that I mean no blasphemy towards the mashed potatoes. I was skeptical when I made it the first time (skepticism towards new recipes is a reoccurring theme for me), but when I tasted the first spoonful straight from the pot I was amazed to find it tasted like turkey gravy. In the best possible way. I’ve tweaked and adjusted and adapted the recipe since that first making, perhaps stemming more from a laziness towards measuring than from a need to improve the taste. Still, it’s delicious, and can take quite a bit of flexibility in your measurements.
Vegan Mushroom Gravy
I made this for the first Thanksgiving I was vegetarian and have made it dozens of times since. I like it to flood my potatoes, but I also use it as a stew base with kale and white beans. Nearly everything it touches becomes more delicious.
- 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, diced
- 5 large shiitake mushrooms, chopped
- 2 1/2 cups of water
- 1 tbsp Better than Bouillon (sub in broth for the water and bouillon if you like)
- 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- Mix together 1 tbsp of oil with the whole wheat flour and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, add the other tbsp of oil and saute the onion, garlic and shittake mushrooms until the onions are soft, just bordering on caramelized. The longer you can let this mixture cook the more flavor you’ll develop.
- Add the water and bouillion, or broth to the onion mixture and stir.
- Add the nutritional yeast and soy sauce and bring the gravy to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes (if the gravy boils, continue to adjust the heat down).
- Stir in the flour and oil mixture. Cook for at least another ten minutes (but could be left over low heat on the stove for up to 30 minutes with occasional stirring) before serving.
So I sautéed up a bunch of kale leaves, and topped them with several big scoops of mashed potatoes.
Drowned the whole thing in gravy,
and calmly tucked into a dish that will always satisfy, no matter what news is on the other end of the phone.
Do you have a comfort food dish you always turn to?