Vegetarian stuffed potatoes: Going back to the basics during the Holy Week

This is the first dish that comes to my mind whenever someone asks me for Lent recipes. It is so simple, yet so satisfying! I found the recipe about 15 years ago in a magazine, and I’ve been making it ever since with great success. Nothing beats a few unassuming ingredients, which come together and create a genuine flavor experience. I like this dish so much that while writing about it I had to go to the kitchen and get myself a second helping. It’s so tasty! 🙂

Years ago I used to work as a TV reporter in my home country Romania. I was a very busy person, who hardly ever cooked. Moreover, I never observed Good Friday, which in my culture is marked by the total abstinence from food for the whole day. That particular year though (I think it was 1999?) I decided to observe Good Friday although I knew the demands of my job would make this very difficult. I only drank water the entire day, and the lack of food made me tired and moody. Around 7pm on Good Friday, a colleague and I went out to do a story on the ongoing religious ceremony at a local church. By then I could hardly move my feet, yet I would not give up. I was exhausted, and the entire experience was surreal. I can still remember my colleague and I taking the interviews, instructing the cameraman, and supervising the latter’s shots while also making sure not to disturb the huge religious gathering. When I got home close to midnight, my mom was waiting for me with a bowl full of stuffed potatoes. I think I ate two or three in one seating. They were so good, and I was so hungry!

The ingredients and instructions are below. For a vegan dish, use 2 tbsp of vegetable oil instead of butter. You can also add garlic to the mushroom filling if you want. I’m not a fan of garlic, and this is why I don’t use it more often.

Ingredients

4 large red potatoes

8oz container mushrooms (I bought sliced mushrooms to save time)

1 small red onion

1 15oz can diced tomatoes

1/2 stick butter or 2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 bunch parsley (I’ve been keeping mine in water in a vase to make it last longer)

Salt and pepper (to taste)

Fill a big pot with water and add a pinch of salt. Put the potatoes to boil, and poke them regularly with a fork to see whether they have softened. Since they are large, the boiling is going to take awhile – it took me over half an hour. When they are done, take the potatoes out of the pot and let them cool down.

While the potatoes are cooling down you can start making the mushroom filling. Chop the onion finely and put it in a pan. Add the butter and let it melt over a low heat, mixing it with the onions by using a spatula. Add the sliced mushrooms when the butter has melted completely, and keep stirring until the mixture is homogeneous. Leave the mushrooms to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the mushrooms have softened and have a golden-brown color, add half of the diced tomatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook for another 10 minutes. Chop a handful of parsley and add it to the pan just before taking it off the heat.

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Use a knife or your bare hands (I used my hands) to take the skin off the potatoes.

Use a teaspoon or a small ice cream scoop to scoop out the center of the potatoes. (You can use it to make mashed potatoes.)

Fill each potato with the mushroom mixture, then put them in a pan. To make a sauce, mix the remaining diced tomatoes with one cup of water and with any of the remaining mushroom mixture, season to taste, and add it to the pan. Here I also added some of the leftover potato center because I wanted the sauce to have a thick consistency. Cook for about 20 minutes over a medium heat, adding more water or salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve the potatoes on their own or with sour cream on top.

I like the earthiness and simplicity of this dish, which stands true to itself and to its main ingredients. With minimal processing, the resulting flavors are unadulterated and the original elements shine through, making these stuffed potatoes rustic and humble. I treasure the humility of this dish and the deep meaning it has for me. Going “back to the basics” and reflecting on their purpose is, after all, what I always feel I need to do during the Holy Week.


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