Hot and sour soup and a tangy stew: Ravinder Bhogal’s recipes for mussels

In the shellfish popularity stakes, mussels are not as revered as lobsters or oysters, but they do have a loyal fan base – for good reason. British rope-grown varieties are one of the most sustainable sources of food, and are sweet and so plump that they look as if they’ve been on steroids. What I have always found particularly rewarding about mussels is that they are cheap, easy and quick to cook, as well as versatile enough to work well with flavours from a global larder.

Mussels with kefir, bulgur wheat and soft herbs (pictured above)
This mussel dish has a Turkish inflection – the kefir adds both tang and richness, and can be easily swapped out for yoghurt.

Prep 20 min
Cook 45 min
Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and very finely chopped
4 sticks celery, finely chopped
3 fat garlic cloves , peeled and finely chopped
2 tsp pul biber
2 tbsp dried mint
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1½ litres vegetable or chicken stock
100g bulgur wheat
500g kefir
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp plain flour mixed with 2 tbsp cold water

2kg mussels, rinsed and cleaned (discard any with broken shells or open ones that don’t close when tapped)
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp each chopped mint, chervil or parsley and dill
1 tsp sumac, to finish

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then saute the onion and celery until soft but not coloured. Stir in the garlic, pul biber, dried mint and lemon zest, and cook until fragrant. Pour in the stock, bring to a boil, then scatter in the bulgur wheat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until it’s cooked.

In a bowl, whisk the kefir and egg. Add the flour mixture and a ladle of the hot stock, and whisk again to combine. Drop the mussels into the hot stock, cover and cook for three to four minutes, until the mussels have opened up – discard any that do not.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the mussels and keep warm (it doesn’t matter if some of the bulgur is mixed in, too). Pour the kefir mix into the stockpot, reduce the heat and mix through until it comes to a simmer, but do not let it boil. Season to taste and scatter over half the herbs.

Take off the heat, return the mussels to the pan, then ladle into serving bowls. Scatter over the remaining herbs and the sumac, and serve.

Mussels, rice and tamarind rasam

Rasam is a deeply spicy and sour broth that, much like a Thai hot-and-sour soup, is designed to make you sweat. It’s normally eaten on its own or with a bowl of steamed rice, but the addition of sweet mussels works incredibly well with its fragrant flavours, while the rice gives body to an otherwise thin broth.

Prep 15 min
Infuse 1 hr+
Cook 45 min
Serves 4

1 tbsp ghee
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
¼ tsp asafoetida
15 curry leaves
1 dried chilli, broken
¼ tsp whole peppercorns
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 heaped tbsp rasam powder
1 thumbsized piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into very fine matchsticks
1 long red chilli, sliced
2 tomatoes, chopped
45g tamarind concentrate
20g jaggery, or soft light brown sugar
1 litre water
Sea salt, to taste
100g basmati rice
2kg mussels, rinsed and cleaned (discard any with broken shells or open ones that don’t close when tapped)
1 handful freshly chopped coriander
Juice of a lime, to taste

For the rasam powder
1 tbsp ghee, for frying
4 whole dried chillies
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp pigeon peas or channa dal
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp whole black peppercorns

First make the rasam powder; heat the ghee in a small pan, then add all the other powder ingredients. Saute over a low heat for three to four minutes, set aside to cool, then blend into a fine powder and store in an airtight container.

To make the rasam, melt the ghee in a large saucepan, add the mustard seeds and, once they pop and splutter, sprinkle in the asafoetida, curry leaves and dried chilli.

Tip in the peppercorns, cumin, ginger, chilli and the rasam powder, and stir-fry briefly until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, tamarind, jaggery, water and salt, and bring to a boil. Leave to simmer for 20 minutes, then leave to cool and infuse for at least an hour, but the longer, the better, and preferably overnight. Fine strain, making sure you squeeze the solids against the sieve before discarding.

Bring the strained rasam back to a boil, drop in the rice and cook for 10 minutes, until tender. Drop in the mussels, cover with a tight lid and steam for three to four minutes, until the mussels have opened up (discard any that don’t). Finish with the coriander and lime juice to taste, and serve at once.