Can you help me recreate the vegan mushroom couscous from Zaytinya?
October 29, 2019 5:22 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me recreate the vegan mushroom couscous from Zaytinya?

I recently ate at José Andrés's Zaytinya in Washington, DC with vegan friends, and we were all completely head-over-heels for their mushroom couscous. The meal was important to us for a lot of reasons beyond just the deliciousness, and I would really like to make a similar dish for them at home. However, I myself am not vegan and not too familiar with vegan cookery. So although I am an intermediate-level home cook, I have absolutely no idea how one would create such a thing in a home kitchen.

Here is the description from the restaurant website:

Mushroom Couscous $10
traditional Lebanese-style pearl couscous, peas, mushrooms, garlic toum

I feel pretty ok about the toum --- I have not tried to do it yet, but based on the recipes I see, I think with some trial and error I should be able to handle it. The base of the dish though... it was so, so creamy and savory that it was really hard to believe it didn't have any animal products, and I have no idea where to even start with recreating it.

I neglected to take any pictures, so not a lot to go on. Here are the details I do remember:

* I am 90% sure that the mushrooms were enoki.
* The couscous pearls themselves were absolutely huge. I am not overly experienced with couscous, but I have eaten Israeli couscous and googled Lebanese couscous, and these guys were wayyyy bigger than that --- like the size of chickpeas. Maybe made in the restaurant?
* The version that we had didn't have peas, at least not green peas? It had chickpeas though, which made it easy to compare the size of the couscous grains.
* It was so, so, so savory and creamy. It was so good that my friend who has been a vegan for nigh on 10 years now was suspicious about eating it, even though we specifically ordered items that are known to be vegan, and double-checked with the server. And honestly, I understood. It was at least 5x more delicious than any couscous dish I've ever made, meaty or not.

That's all I got. Money, time, ingredients, and cooking equipment are not factors. Just the delicious, delicious secrets.
posted by slenderloris to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm interested in the responses! I have nothing to add, but did find pics of the dish on Yelp, if that might help.
posted by homesickness at 5:58 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Could it be moghrabieh? I’ve had it before as the size of chickpeas. A quick google came up with this woman’s experience with them.
posted by inevitability at 7:30 PM on October 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: you're going to want to cook those pearls in a highly umami liquid. I don't have this dish's specific secret, but I will tell you another secret, which is that this chicken consomme powder is vegan and super extremely useful in adding savory body to this sort of thing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:57 PM on October 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Have you tried emailing the restaurant and politely asking for the recipe? Some will decline to share, but I have been surprised on more than one occasion when they were willing to.
posted by rachaelfaith at 8:06 PM on October 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Vegan mushroom sauce that is to die for:

Get a bunch of regula mushrooms, wipe them clean gently and chop roughly. Roughly chop a half a mild onion and a stalk or two of celery. Put it all in the biggest pot you have, put a lid on and put it over a tiny flame. Tiny. If you have an electric stove lift the pot up on a trivet. You want to sweat the vegetables but a very low heat sweat, which is basically heating them up a bit but not enough to cook them or even close. They should start to smell pretty vegetably but not cooked at all. You can do this in oil or butter too if you want. Or water or nothing.

Sweat them for a half hour or until the onions are pretty soft. Remember, just a bit warm, not cooked. Not as warm as a normal sweat at all, you should be able to put your hand in there.Then add good quality low or no sodium stock (not cheap cubes!!) to just cover up the veggies and bring to a boil. Then simmer for ages with the lid on, at least an hour. Then blend to a smooth paste with an immersion blender and add salt to taste. This will give you a thick, intensely flavored base for soups or anything else. Freezes well too.

Not gonna lie, its best with chicken stock and a touch of butter in the sweat but the good quality veggie stock or the Better Than Bouillon fake chicken is 95% as good and you are using such a low temp sweat that you dont need fat.

Never make it with beef stock, its awful.
posted by fshgrl at 8:54 PM on October 29, 2019 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I might try to make this, just out of curiosity, but here are my guesses:
You can find Lebanese couscous on Amazon, if you don't live near a store that has them. They swell while cooking, like all pasta.
I'm going to try this out first with canned chickpeas, because I want to use the liquid from the can. If you want to make them from scratch, do that as usual, soaking them overnight or using a pressure cooker.
Then, I think you need to make a mushroom stock, using dried mushrooms, preferably porcini. Soak the mushrooms in hot water. When they are soft, chop them very finely (keep the water), chop an onion very finely, and maybe a stick of celery and a carrot, too. Now soften the finely chopped aromatics in olive oil in a soup pot. Pour over the water used for soaking the mushrooms + up to 1 1/2 liter of water. Bring to the boil, skim, add thyme, peppercorns and bay leaf and let simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add salt and taste. Maybe it's fine, maybe it needs a little more reduction. This should give you the rich umami taste. Add the chickpeas with some of their liquid to the pot, and continue to simmer.
Chop another onion finely and prep the mushrooms.
Now, in another pot, boil the couscous for 10 minutes. poor a cup of the boiling water into your stock, and drain the couscous.
In a big pan or sauteuse, heat a generous amount of olive oil. The creaminess is going to come from emulsifying the oil and the stock with the starchy couscous. Soften the onions, and add the couscous to the pan, stirring well to make sure all the couscous is coated with oil. Maybe add a generous teaspoonful of cumin and/or any other spices you think might be in there. Now begin adding the stock with the chickpeas one cup at the time, while stirring gently, like for a risotto. Here, I don't know how long to cook or how much stock to add, I'll be tasting. In a different pan, I'll fry the fresh enoki mushrooms in olive oil, and add them to the dish with the last ladle of stock I put in.

That's my guess. I don't think I'll be able to try it before Friday, and also, I can't go to DC to taste it. But tell me what you think, and I'll try it.
posted by mumimor at 11:19 PM on October 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

Come to think of it: after looking a bit closer at the pictures, I'd drain the stock before adding chickpeas for a better presentation.
posted by mumimor at 11:29 PM on October 29, 2019

Best answer: It was so, so, so savory and creamy

Vegan, grain, creamy? I'm gonna guess they prepared it using a risotto technique. Works on a lot more than just arborio rice. Couscous cooks a lot faster, but it still works - boil the liquid you're adding to the couscous before adding it, add it in a few portions, letting each cook down/absorb before the next, rather than all at once, and stir a lot.
posted by solotoro at 7:42 AM on October 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've had a very hard time making decent toum, but there is a Lebanese market nearby that sells fantastic, fresh tubs of it. It's incredibly creamy, but I think many recipes call for raw egg white.
posted by slogger at 8:39 AM on October 30, 2019

Response by poster: These are all good suggestions. I will give some of them a try, and also email the restaurant. I'll report back.
posted by slenderloris at 9:50 AM on October 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

OK so I finally got the ingredients and tried this.
I don't think I'm entirely there yet. I got creamy and umami, you'd definitely think there was meat and butter in there. But I think the couscous should be cooked a bit less than what I thought, and the chickpeas a bit more. Also, it was too salty, probably because I hadn't thought of the fact that the canned chickpeas are in a salt liquid and everything reduces a lot in the risotto process. That said, when eaten with the toum on top, I didn't notice the saltiness at all.
I used about a liter of liquid for 1/2 cup of couscous and 1/2 can of chickpeas. That seemed right. The liquid was a mix of the vegetable and mushroom broth, chickpea liquid and couscous boiling water.
I think I should have used far more olive oil. Maybe 1/2 cup. Restaurants tend to use a lot of fat and salt to create a rich feeling. It's a treat, not an everyday meal.
The cooking process while adding stock to the couscous was slow, very slow. I forgot to time it, but at least 30 minutes.

My tasting experts aren't home tonight, so I can't offer reviews. But it was good enough that I'll try again with some tweaks.
Good luck!
posted by mumimor at 11:56 AM on November 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks to this thread, I made toum for the 1st time late last week. It's delicious!
posted by kingless at 7:34 AM on November 5, 2019

Response by poster: Well, it's been a week and no response from the restaurant. I may try asking Bon Appetit.

I bought the instant consommé powder suggested by fingersandtoes, but have not bought the mograbieh yet. (Thank you inevitability for the link to that detailed blog post, that is surely the right couscous.)

This is the vegan toum recipe I will be aiming to perfect.

Thank you mumimor for your hands-on feedback! I'm sure you are right about putting tons of oil in --- I will remember that.
posted by slenderloris at 3:40 PM on November 9, 2019

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