Chef Mike Stilson has been running the kitchen at Woodlot Restaurant, a small restaurant based around their wood burning oven in Little Italy in Toronto, since the spring of 2015. They offer two menus, one for meat eaters and another for vegans and vegetarians. They are one of the few restaurants using their wood oven for everything but pizzas.
A winning combination of wild and local ingredients, this grilled mushroom salad is a celebration of the mushrooms’ affinity for soaking up the smoky flavours of the grill, and is best made on a wood or charcoal grill. Intentionally delicious and accidentally vegan, the dish combines the brightness of pickled beetroot, the freshness of crisp shaved fennel, and the fruity, floral aromatics of toasted wild rice and black walnut contrast and complement the smoky, savoury mushrooms, making for a unique experience both in flavour and texture. Recipe by Mike Stilson.
1 1/3 cups wild rice
1 Spanish onion, peeled and halved
1 head of garlic, peeled and halved horizontally
1 bulb of fennel, peeled and halved
4 bay leaves
2 strips orange zest
1 carrot, peeled and halved
2 stalks of celery
2 to 3 tbsp salt
2 tbsp walnut oil, optional
6 tbsp sweet pickled beets with their liquid (storebought, or see Tip), cut into small dice
3 tbsp black walnuts, toasted in a 350°F oven until aromatic (see Tip)
½ bulb of fennel shaved thinly and shocked in ice water for 30 seconds crisp (see Tip)
3 tbsp confit shallot (see Tip)
1 tbsp fresh cut chive
1 tbsp fresh cut parsley
Salt to taste
200 g Maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms or substitute bunched mushrooms such as King, Oyster, or beech (see Tip)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Dill sprigs, for garnish OMIT
Puffed wild rice, for garnish, optional
Lemon, to taste
1. To make the wild rice, toast raw wild rice on a baking sheet with parchment at 350°F until it becomes aromatic. Put wild rice, onion, carrot, celery, fennel, garlic, orange zest, and bay leaves in a small stock pot and cover with cold water. Bring pot to a rolling simmer on medium high heat, then turn it down to low heat, and cook until the rice grains begin to open up, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Once the grains are open, take the pot off the heat, and add salt and let it sit for 5 minutes. Strain the cooked rice, spread it on a tray, remove aromatics, then drizzle the rice with walnut oil while it’s still warm, stir and then let cool.
2. Assemble the salad by combining rice, beets, walnuts, shaved fennel, shallot, chive, parsley, and salt in a mixing bowl, adjusting seasoning as needed. Allow to come to room temperature.
Break the mushrooms into bite sized pieces and toss with olive oil and salt. Place the mushrooms on a grilling grate, and cook on a hot bed of embers until the edges begin to colour and the mushrooms are tender and smoky, about 4 or 5 minutes, turning as needed.
3. To finish the dish, garnish the wild rice mixture with fresh sprigs of dill and puffed wild rice (if using). Taste and season the grilled maitakes with salt and lemon as needed, then artfully place them on top of the wild rice mixture. Serves 8-10.
Tip: Finely diced ¼ cup shallots cover in olive oil (⅓ cup), cook over low heat until it becomes translucent.
Tip: To make your own pickled beets, peel and cut 1 kg red beets into a small dice. Combine 250 g water, 500 ml white wine vinegar, 250 g white sugar, and 2 tbsp salt in a small stock pot, warming the mixture on medium heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Then add diced beets, and cook on medium until tender, about 30-35 min. Remove from heat and let cool. Store beets in their liquid in fridge until needed.
Tip: Black walnuts can also be found in many green grocers and stores that offer wild foods (such as Fiesta Farms, Whole Foods, and Forbes Wild Foods carry them year round)—just be sure to buy them shelled. They offer a very unique flavour to the dish but are pricey. Regular walnuts will work fine, but it is definitely worth toasting them beforehand.
Tip: We split the fennel into quarters, and remove the cores before we slice them length-ways on a mandoline to get long delicate ribbons of fresh shaved fennel. Using sharp knife to slice them as thin as possible works too.
Tip: Maitakes can be found year round in many green grocers in larger centers or larger grocery stores Loblaws stores. Oyster mushrooms can be substituted, but I do find the maitakes to have an amazing capacity to soak up the smoke. We usually separate them into bite sized pieces – breaking them down too small will cause them to fall through the grill. Larger pieces will char and become bitter before they are cooked through.