It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt.
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills.
It comes first, and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter.
My favorite vignette from The Hobbit is Riddles in the Dark, where Bilbo encounters the precioussss, slimy Gollum and they play a game of riddles, during which Gollum decides whether or not he wants to eat the little hobbit that has wandered into his lair. It’s a delightfully creepy scene, and as I was also an obnoxious, smartypants kid, the cleverness of it was fun for me.
Though it’s said that Gollum subsists on fishes and the odd goblin that gets lost in his cave, I started dreaming of what other slimy, swampy food might be available. I put together this stew, seaweed steeped in a lovely broth rich with sweetness and umami, with earthy mushrooms and watery lotus root. Lest it veer too far into Asian territory, I flavored it with ginger, peppercorns, and clove reminiscent of Medieval Europe’s ubiquitous savory spice mix poudre fort. If Gollum gets hungry and tired of fishes, this stew is a slurpy alternative.
For the broth
Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit’s Vegan Umami Broth
- 3 tablespoons white miso
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 onions, thinly sliced, skins reserved
- 1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 celery stalk, thinkly sliced
- 1 head garlic, halved
- 8 dried shitake mushrooms
- 4 6×4 pieces kombu
- 1 tablespoon peppercorns
- 6 cloves
- 2 slices ginger
Heat oven to 300° Whisk together miso, vegetable oil, and 2 tablespoons water. On a baking sheet, toss onions, carrots, celery, garlic, shitake mushrooms, and kombu with the miso mixture and arrange in a single layer. Bake for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours until caramelized.
Transfer vegetables to a pot with 4 quarts cold water, peppercorns, cloves, and ginger. Simmer for about an hour and strain.
For the stew
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
- 6 ounces lotus root (about half a lotus root, I used a package of slices), peeled, halved, and sliced
- 2 green onions, whites and greens divided and sliced
- 1 ounce dried wakame seaweed, cut or broken into long strips
- vegetable broth (see above)
- salt and white pepper to taste
In a pot, heat the vegetable oil, and cook the mushrooms until liquid is released but before they brown. Add lotus root, green onions, and white pepper and cook until onions are wilted. Add seaweed and about 3 cups vegetable broth (more if you’d like a soupier consistency). Cook on a low simmer for about 15 minutes, check seasoning, and serve hot or warm garnished with green onion.