Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mushrooms with cashews and tomatoes

I met Navnita when she was working as a consultant on a research project in my old institution.  She teaches political science and international relations at University of Delhi, has a fine critical mind, and is a pleasure to work with.  She is also quite a good cook.  She prepared this dish for my family and me when we visited with her family when they were based in Washington DC when she was a fellow at Brookings. I was particularly struck by how well she got along with my mother, the two having at least on the surface so little in common. They seemed to bond over the experience of being the children of refugees, Neeta of parents who left the Punjab during partition, my mother of emigrants from the Pale fleeing anti-Semitism. And, as my mother said after we left "Neeta is not a stupid girl."  (This is a Bronx way of giving a compliment.)

Anyway,  this dish stuck in my mind, perhaps because it was also relatively easy to reproduce.  Although you could use roasted cashews and vegetable oil, I think the raw cashews really make a difference here.  It is one of those dishes where quantities are not that important, and you can adjust to your taste.  Is is possible to put too many cashews in?  Certainly not, but I usually hold myself to about 1/4 cup:

Mushrooms with cashews and tomatoes:

  • 1-3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil (corn for flavor, canola for health)
  • 1/4 cup whole raw cashews (roasted if you can't find)
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon whole cumin seed, depending on taste
  • 1/2 cup sliced scallions (white and light green parts only)
  • 1-2 slice green chili peppers (if you can find any, add a 1 or 2 whole dried red ones after the cumin)
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, drained of juice (in season, use 1 cup halved fresh cherry tomatoes;  you could also use del Valle canned cherry tomatoes)
  • salt to taste
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, whole if small, otherwise cut in halves or quarters (for washing, see below)
  • 1/4 teaspoons garam masala (if you absolutely can't find or make this, substitute whole cumin, roasted lightly and ground, or even ground black pepper)
  1. Fry the cashews in the ghee in a large skillet on medium heat until browned but not burned.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Add cumin seeds and cook on high for about 30 seconds until they turn a shade darker.  If you are using whole dried pepppers, add  once the cumin darkens. 
  3. Add scallions, salt lightly,  turn heat up to high and saute about 3 minutes until soft. Add the sliced green chilis and cook about 30 seconds.
  4. Add turmeric, stir in, and add tomatoes.  Cook on high heat until the liquid evaporates.
  5. Add mushrooms, more salt if desired, and cook on high heat until they give off their liquid and it evaporates.  The amount of time this takes will depend on the heat and the size of your skillet, but should take around 10 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle with garam masala and serve. 
Washing mushrooms:  Life is defintely too short to wipe each mushroom individually with a damp paper towel to clean them, especially if you are clearing more that 4 mushrooms.  Here is what I do:  Dump the mushrooms into a large mixing bowl that will hold them and then some.  Fill the bowl with water, swish the mushrooms around for a few seconds, and then scoop them out into a colander to drain.  Most of the dirt and grit will be left in the water.  Dump it out, rinse the bowl, and repeat.  The mushrooms should now be clean.  Any of the few that still have any grit or dirt remained may now be wiped individually.


  1. Alan: I've never cooked mushrooms and cashews together unless adding them to a Chinese style chicken stir-fry so this is an interesting idea. I'm surprised at the quality of cumin seeds though. One tsp would come naturally to me unless I'm using roasting and grinding cumin seeds for any preparation as then I might be generous with it.
    And, I like your Mom's simple take at people :)

  2. The quantity of cumin is typical Alan-esque over seasoning. I am sure that originally it was made with much less, but it is probably more authentic and better with a smaller quanitity. I was reconstructing the recipe from memory -- Navnita prapred it for us in 2002 -- so I would say trust your instincts when you try it.