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Portobella Brisket with Roasted Root Vegetables

Portobella Brisket with Roasted Root Vegetables

Passover is one of my favorite Jewish holidays. It’s so poignant and powerful, especially if you use a vegan Haggadah. Passover was also special to me because it meant time with my grandparents and my Grandmother’s brisket. Like many people who had challenging childhoods, food came to symbolize love and comfort to me, especially the food from my Grandmother because I loved her so much.

It’s hard for me to think that I once ate cows. Cows were really the first farmed animals I met after I went vegan. There was one cow in particular whom I bonded with at Farm Sanctuary the first time we visited a sanctuary after I went vegan. She headbutted a goat who was ready to ram me but that’s a different story for a different day. In any case, sensitive but strong could you not love? When I went vegetarian as a teenager, my Grandmother was shocked: I was the one of her six grandchildren who seemed to love her food the most. “Not even brisket?,” she asked, a little sadness on her face. I shook my head and I knew in that moment that if I wouldn’t eat meat to make my Grandmother feel better, I wouldn’t do it for anyone. I was vegetarian - and then vegan - for life, and it wasn’t because I didn’t like the taste of meat. It was because I couldn’t stomach the needless cruelty of it.

Recently, it’s been on my mind to develop something evocative of my Grandmother’s brisket, served, as she did, with tender-roasted vegetables. I first did a little research on brisket, which is a common cut of meat prepared by Ashkenazi Jews for the holidays, and how it is cooked. Yeah, I took one for the team. I learned that key to its tenderness is to roast it for a long period of time at a low temperature. I decided to try the same strategy for portobello mushrooms, adapting a bit due to the smaller size than traditional brisket. Brisket is not only cooked long and at a low temperature, it is braised like a pot roast as it’s cooking. Again, I decided to do the same.

Have no illusions -- what you will find here does not taste like meat. It tastes like mushrooms - tender, umami-packed and juicy - but there is no hiding the fact that it’s not beef. If you really want something that tastes more like meat, I’d recommend you make a seitan dish as it’s much closer in texture. For myself, I can’t do gluten and I thought it’d be fun to try this with something other than tofu or jackfruit. Thus portobello mushrooms popped in my mind, and for a few days before, I planned it all out.

A note on portobellos: Me and these giant mushrooms go way back. In the 1990s, if you wanted to eat out as a vegan, it was either portobello mushrooms in various forms or hummus. If you were lucky, I might add! Once things started getting better in terms of vegan options, I went on strike against portobellos because I never much cared for them in the first place and I had eaten more than my share over those years. I have recently come back around to them and I am glad I did because they are perfect in this dish.

A note on Passover: This should be Kosher for Passover except for the tamari and perhaps Worcestershire sauce but I am not an expert in this. Maybe be Sephardic this year?

A note on brisket: The kind of brisket this is inspired by - the Eastern European recipe - is different from the popular brisket originating in Texas.

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Portobella Brisket with Roasted Root Vegetables

A note on this recipe: While this is a simple recipe to execute, it takes a while to marinate and bake. Be sure to read all the instructions before making or you may be disappointed to learn the mushrooms soak overnight or for eight overs) in the marinade. It’s always a good idea to read through recipes before cooking anyway.

6 clean portobello mushrooms
4 cups vegetable broth
cup tomato sauce
cup vegan red wine
2 tablespoon tamari
6 tablespoons olive oil, plus one teaspoon, divided
1 teaspoons vegan Worcestershire sauce
(gluten-free, if that’s how you roll)
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and pepper
7 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 bay leaves
4 cups baby potatoes, cut into fourths
(I liked a mix of colors)
5 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 yellow onion, cut into fourths or eighths
Additional salt and pepper to taste

Hold each mushroom flat in your palm and use a small metal spoon to carefully remove the gills and stems; be very gentle or you could break it into pieces. Having a bowl nearby to deposit this is handy. You can also just twist the stems out sometimes. You can keep the stems separate and use them for something else, like a stir-fry, chili or broth. Score the tops of the mushrooms with a small, sharp knife. This helps to infuse the mushrooms with marinade.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan for every two mushrooms over medium heat. I was able to fit two mushrooms in at a time, so this is three tablespoons when you are done. Cook the tops down (the scored side) for six minutes, then flip and cook another minute. Do this until all mushrooms have been cooked. Set them aside to cool.

In a blender, add the broth, tomato sauce, wine, two tablespoons of olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, nutritional yeast, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper, Blend until smooth and combined.

In one freezer bag, add three mushrooms, two thyme sprigs, one rosemary sprig, one bay leaf and enough broth to cover when lying flat. Do the same thing in a second bag. You may have some broth left over. That’s okay! Allow this to marinate overnight in the refrigerator or for eight hours.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Prepare a deep roasting pan with parchment paper. Remove the mushrooms from the bags (reserving the marinade) and place on the parchment in the middle, shaping it loosely like a loaf. I put the smaller mushrooms on the ends and overlapped to build this shape. Brush 1 teaspoon olive oil over the top.

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, carrots and onions. (If you want the onions to stay together best, don’t add them until you’ve already mixed it together and you can leave the stem and top intact, just peeling the skins off.) Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and three tablespoons of the marinade and mix until coated. Arrange this around the mushrooms, pour any remaining liquid over the veggies, and place the three remaining sprigs of thyme over the top of the mushrooms. Cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil and bake for one hour.

After one hour, remove the foil and baste with marinade, dabbing the mushrooms and veggies. Re-cover with foil and put back in the oven for another hour.

Remove from the oven, sprinkle everything with additional salt and pepper and remove the mushrooms to cut in thin strips, ideally along the score marks. (You may want to wait five minutes for it to cool a bit.) Plate with the roasted veggies and enjoy!

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