A Spicy Mushroom Ragù That Rivals Your Favorite Bolognese
Plus, it's vegan
For me, eating less meat has been top of mind since my move from the meat-and-potato-loving Midwest to one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, Berlin. While I’m not vegan or vegetarian myself, I rarely cook with meat at home, but I make around 80% of my meals in my own kitchen, so I’m always on the search for recipes that have the transformative power to take vegetables and turn them into something super-satisfying and deeply flavored. This ragù does that, and more.
Based off one of my personal-favorite recipes in one of my personal-favorite cookbooks, Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes, this ragù might require a trip to a specialty supermarket—or, for the sake of convenience, your friendly neighborhood Amazon—but once you make it and taste it, I think you’ll be more than happy you made that trip.
The ingredients that make this recipe special
There are two ingredients that I think really make this ragù something to brag about: gochujang (Korean red chili paste) and Korean black bean paste. When buying gochujang it’s important to know that it can vary in spice level—so if you’re wary of spice, or like things super hot, you may want to choose one specifically labeled as “mild” or “extra spicy.” If spice isn’t your thing in general, and you’d rather opt for no spice at all, you can actually swap the gochujang out for tomato paste—just use half the amount called for in the recipe.
Then we come to the Korean black bean paste (Chunjang), that is most often used in one recipe, and one recipe only: jjajangmyeon, Korean black bean noodles. I’m sorry to say that there really is no substitute and it’s not very versatile—typically being used for this dish and not much else. However, it keeps for 2 years or more in the fridge, so investing in one jar and keeping it on hand just for these two (very delicious, if I do say so myself) recipes, should serve you just fine.
In combination with the super savory, aromatic sautéed mushrooms (shiitake are my preference, but they can be hard to find and expensive, so feel free to swap them out with portobello or button mushrooms), these thick pastes both add hefty spice and richness to the finished ragù. Don’t underestimate their importance, and if you find another use for the black bean paste, please comment below—I am super curious...
How to serve the ragù and, should you have leftovers, save it
The perfect pairing for this sauce, in my opinion, are thick, chewy udon noodles. They provide a toothsome texture I love in combination with the spicy, glossy, deeply red sauce–which sticks perfectly to the thick noodles. The sauce also has an inherent tendency (thanks to the pastes) to be a bit thick and gloopy, so the addition of pasta (or in this case, noodle) cooking water (or just regular water if you want to serve with rice or are reheating leftovers) is key to smooth out the sauce. Be generous, as you can always simmer the sauce longer to thicken it back up.
Serve the noodles topped with a few heaping spoonfuls of the ragù and some cilantro leaves. For added texture, I also like to top up my plate with crispy, fried shallots or onions before mixing everything together and inhaling it as fast as I can. You can skip the addition of these of course, but for me, they are a little cherry on top of a sauce I can’t get enough of.
Published on February 29, 2020