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Steak your claim to a mushroom

Stuffed mushrooms

I wouldn’t steak my career on this, but a steak is a slab of beef, nothing more, nothing less. But suddenly you can have steak almost anything. Big slab of lamb? Lamb steak. Great hunk of mushroom? It’s a steak.

You didn’t know that? You obviously don’t read your Woolies labels very closely. Four-packs of big brown mushrooms are now called “steaks” by Woolworths – and they presumably know what they’re talking about. Don’t they? It was Woolies after all who decreed that white people, nearly two decades into our creaky democracy, will for the time being remain ineligible to work for them, although apparently we’re still allowed to shop there, which is a great relief, I must say. For one awful moment I thought they didn’t want us in there at all.

It was a terrible moment. Where else would I be able to buy my mushroom steaks?

So, what next? Chicken steaks? Fat chunk of chicken breast served rare or blue, smothered in globby pepper sauce? Hmmm, nice. Texas chicken? That would probably be turkey, actually – a giant piece of turkey breast steeped for a week or two in a marinade containing too much vinegar and not enough finesse.

I do get the idea of calling an ostrich steak an ostrich steak. Ostrich meat is very beef-like in texture, appearance and even in taste. So we’ll allow that. Kudu steak too, and gemsbok. The bokkie family generally seems permissible in the steak world. Manly cuts for manly men and all that.

The thinking behind calling a fat chunk of lamb leg a “steak” is the presumption that it has no bone. But a T-bone steak is a steak, right? And there’s a load of bone in there. So that argument doesn’t wash.

But why cloak things in terms that don’t fit them? Oh I know: it’s a marketing thing. Not that the Woolies marketing department will have much time for worrying about such frivolities at the moment. The department must be Stress Central. Still, at least having to roll out damage control measures to counter claims of racism in their hiring practices is currently denying them the time to come up with such dumb-ass ideas as marketing mushrooms as slabs of beef.

Anyway, if life is too short to stuff a mushroom, as Shirley Conran wrote in Superwoman in 1975, life is also too short to boycott the one store that constantly delivers the goods for busy shoppers who like quality ingredients. And I think it goes without saying that I am not in their pay. I have mixed feelings about their hiring policy. It’s nearly two decades down the line, and enough ought to have been done by now to address imparity, but frankly it hasn’t been, which means that we have a democratic government that is hardly any better at this sort of thing than the ghastly previous one was. But to throw a blanket over it totally excluding one of our races is surely beyond the pale, so to speak? At least it’s brought a subject some think of as taboo back into open debate.

Uncooked and ready for the oven

Stuffed mushroom steaks

1 large brown mushroom each

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 red chilli, finely chopped

20 ripe baby tomatoes, quartered

180g cremezola cheese

1 Tbs port

3 Tbs dried black olives, finely chopped

Parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

In the meantime, I did buy some of those mushroom “steaks”. I’m on a bit of a retro bender at the moment, and decided to do them as a starter for a small dinner party the other night. It was so long since I’d last done the thing that Shirley Cnran swore she never did, that I’d forgotten how. So I made up my own recipe, which is pretty much what I do most of the time anyway.

Instead of just piling ingredients on, topping with cheese and shoving under the grill, I made a complete filling.

Start by sautéeing one chopped onion with a couple of cloves of garlic gently until soft. Remove the stems from the mushrooms, chop finely and add to the sauce. Add one finely chopped red chilli and the quartered baby tomatoes – I don’t like cherry tomatoes, which are too tart for my taste, but the little rosa or santa ones are sweet and good. Stir and simmer while the tomatoes release their juices.

Stir in a shot of port, simmer for a few more seconds, then crumble in the cremezola cheese (you can chop it up with a knife if it doesn’t crumble easily, Daisy), and stir until it melts into the sauce. Stir in a tablespoon of chopped flatleaf parsley.

Spoon on to the mushroom “steaks”, sprinkle with chopped dried olives, and pop under the grill (not too close or they’ll burn) for about 20 minutes. These turned out beautifully, so we drank a toast to equality and tucked in.



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