This vegan dish is something that I thought of one night, as I was dropping off to sleep. I liked the idea so much that I got out of bed to write it down, because I knew I would have forgotten it by the morning. Unlike many ideas that come to you in the middle of the night, this was a good one.
The topping – a crunchy, vivid, spicy mixture of mild and hot chillies, garlic, lemongrass and coconut – is what elevates the dish, adding colour, texture and even more flavour.
Use a good mixture of mushrooms – at least four types of whatever fresh varieties are available in the market. A minimum of half the mushrooms should be substantial and meaty, and these should go into the pan first, with thinner, more delicate varieties added towards the end.
Taro contains oxalic acid, an irritant, so you need to wear protective gloves when handling the vegetable, or it will make your hands itch. For the same reason, make sure the taro is fully cooked before tasting the dish.
Prepare the mushrooms. Rinse them briefly, then drain, keeping each type separate. Cut the larger, meatier mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. If using thinner types, such as enoki or shimeji, cut off the woody stem end, then break up the mushrooms into smaller clumps.
Wearing gloves, cut the taro into bite-sized cubes.
Lay the lemongrass stalks on a cutting board and use a meat mallet or the side of a cleaver to lightly bash the entire length. Finely mince the lemongrass.
Halve the shallots, then thinly slice them.
Put the miso in a bowl and stir in some of the coconut milk to make a thick, smooth paste. (If you add undiluted miso, it will end up as clumps in the dish.) Gradually stir in more coconut milk so the miso is thin and smooth.
Heat oil in a wok or large pot over a medium flame, swirling to coat the pan with oil. When the oil is hot, add the shallot, lemongrass, and the meatier mushrooms. Season lightly with salt.
Cook the mushrooms for a few minutes, to brown them lightly. Add the remaining mushrooms according to size, stirring in the thin types last. If necessary, add more oil.
As soon as all the mushrooms are in the pan, stir in the miso/coconut mixture along with the rest of the coconut milk and bring to a simmer.
Add the taro, then season lightly with salt. Bring to the boil and then lower the flame and simmer, stirring often, for about 20 minutes.
While the ingredients are simmering, prepare the topping. Halve the shallots and garlic cloves, then thinly slice them. Thinly slice the red and green banana chillies on the diagonal. Slice the bird’s-eye chillies into thin rounds, squeezing out and discarding the seeds as you go. Use a meat mallet or the side of a cleaver to lightly bash the entire length of the lemongrass stalk, then finely mince it.
Heat oil in a skillet or wok placed over a medium flame and swirl to coat the pan. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until they start to turn pale golden, stirring often. Add the lemongrass and all the chillies and stir. The ingredients should be lightly coated with oil; if necessary, stir in more. Season with salt and cook until the chillies start to soften, stirring often.
Add the coconut shreds and stir continually until the coconut is lightly toasted, then remove the pan from the flame.
After simmering the mushrooms and taro for 20 minutes, fish out a piece of taro and cut it in half to check that it’s fully cooked. If it is, taste the sauce for seasonings and correct, if necessary.
Ladle the ingredients into a serving bowl, and scatter with about half the topping.
Serve immediately, with steamed rice (or bulgur or couscous) and lime wedges, and the remaining topping on the side, for diners to add as they wish.