Sunday, October 22, 2006

Mushroom Rice Soup

Proust had madeleines; I have mushrooms. When the weather is overcast, damp and warm, I often think about childhood mushroom picking trips at our dacha (summer house). Then I’m transported to some sort of a Tolstovian country idyll that is mostly a figment of my imagination.

A while back I wrote this in the comments of a post about mushrooms at The Seasonal Cook's blog:

I spent part of my childhood in Russia and my warmest, fuzziest memories are of mushroom picking in the country. I think my parents taught me to identify different types of mushrooms when I was 5 or 6. We would mushroom picking in the forest on damp, rainy days ('cuz rain makes mushrooms sprout, I was told.) I remember being so excited as a kid when I found the good eating mushrooms. I got even more excited when I spotted the poisonous moohamor--"death to flies," literally. This mushroom had a bright red cap with yellow dots.
We also picked lots of lisichki, or little foxes (chantarelles). I don’t know the English names of all the other mushrooms we found, and I’d be surprised if they even grow in North America. Here are some translations for the mycologists from this BBC article: Bely or Borovik mushroom (Penny bun boletus), Opiata (honey mushroom), Podberyozovik (Rough birch stock), Masliak (Slippery jack) and Ryzhik (Saffron milk cap).

Mushrooms soup is still my favorite way to use mushrooms. Lately I’ve been craving Russian soups, partly because fall calls for rich, earthy food, and partly because I’ve been itching to do some cooking that reflects this blog’s theme.

My ideal mushroom soup has both dried and fresh mushrooms, so I based it on a recipe from Beyond Salmon and a mushroom noodle soup from Anya von Bremzen’s Please to the Table. Admittedly, mushroom rice soup doesn't sound all that Russian, but the boyfriend claims to hate barley. Nearly all Russian soups also call for potatoes, which I've left out here. I think that starch with starch is overkill, especially if you have a desk job.

This mushroom rice soup was really pretty good, if a little too rich. I suspect that my homemade chicken stock was at fault. It’s been ingrained in me that you make soup with stock—beef, chicken, even vegetable—but never water. So I avoid water-based soups in fear that they’ll taste flat and, well, watery. Am I wrong?

For the soup, I soaked ½ ounces dried porcini mushrooms in ½ cup of water for two hours. I strained the water through a coffee filter and reserved it for later. If you’re smart, you’ll run your mushrooms through several changes of water to get rid of the grit. If you’re me, you’ll do that after you nibble on a mushroom and end up with a mouthful of dirt right before you’re supposed to toss the mushrooms into the soup pot.

I warmed up the diced aromatics—a small onion, half a leek, half a large carrot, a garlic clove—in some olive oil and butter until the onions were translucent. Then I added 2 cups of sliced, fresh mushrooms, and sautéed all the vegetables for 10 more minutes. I added the chopped, re-hydrated dried mushrooms; mushroom stock and 3 cups of chicken stock; 2 bay leaves and couple of peppercorns. All of this simmered for 20-25 minutes, after which I added 2-3 tablespoons of dry rice. The soup simmered for 15-20 minutes more, until the rice was done. I tossed in a bunch of chopped dill before serving and we ate the soup with dollops of sour cream.


Kisa said...

Your mushroom soup looks really good! I'll try it with barley (since I have no barley-haters in my household :))
As for richness of flavor, I think it is not a problem in soups (especially if you have to sell the idea of soup as main course).

vasilisa said...

Mushrooms are really a Russian thing, isn't it? I find it so hard here without the selection I was used to as a kid. I even dedicated a whole post to the history of Mushrooms a few days ago. We should unite and educate North America about how wonderful they are :-)

Anonymous said...

Have any of you found a decent source for dried porcini mushrooms that aren't obnoxiously priced? You can get dried morels at Ray's Butcher Shoppe on Loomis for an amazing price of $2.99, but I haven't found porcinis anywhere near that price. Yulinka, where did you get yours from?

Mrs. M. said...

Kisa--I usually like rich soups, but this one was a little too much. Maybe it was just too thick?

Vasilisa-I haven't gone mushroom picking since I was 8, so I've pretty much forgotten what it's like to have a huge selection of mushrooms for free. I liked your history of mushrooms post, btw.

Jeff--I bought porcini mushrooms at Spartak, the Russian grocery in Whitefish Bay (across the street from the Silver Spring Sendik's). I think they were $2-3 for 1/2 ounce. This is actually the first time I've used dry porcinis, so I can't compare the quality to other brands.

Russian groceries have pretty good deals sometimes, but you have to check expiration dates on everything, especially packaged foods. My porcinis had actually expired--surprise, surprise--a week before I bought them.

Anonymous said...

Mushroom picking trips and a dacha do sound completely Tolstovian. I enjoyed reading about this and I hope in the future you write more about your childhood in Russia.

Jeff said...

Thanks for the information. I will have to check out that store the next time I am in Glendale or Whitefish Bay.

Any chance I can get added back to your food links? I said I was bailing in but had a change of heart and have some great ideas and articles coming in the next few months.

Mrs. M. said...

Julie--There isn't all that much to write about...I came to the U.S. when I was nine. My memories are kinda fuzzy, but not when it comes to mushrooms.

Jeff--Sure, I'll add you back to the links. I thought you were done with food blogging, but I like the stuff you have up on your new blog.

Jeff said...

I thought I wanted to do something else, then I had a change of heart. Look for some upcoming interview on my site with a local company that has released their own brand of Vodka and an interview with Marcel Biro (host of Kitchens of Biro TV show on PBS).

Helen said...

Hi Yulinka,

Your soup looks fabulous. I think rice was a great substitution. Now what is it with Russian guys and grains. All men in my family have some grain they hate, and it's different with each one of them too :)


vasilisa said...

Helen: funny you pointed it out, cause I also think lots of Russian guys hate some grains. But mostly barley. My dad hates barley. I think that's the number one grain (if not the only one) they are fed in the army, so when they are finally out of it, they can't stand it...
Yulinka, what do you think?

Mrs. M. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mrs. M. said...

Helen & Vasilisa--Yes, I've noticed this too. My dad, for example, hates pasta. He claims that he was fed sticky clumps of pasta in kindergarden and developed a revulsion to it as a result. (Dry pasta gets no respect in Russian cooking.)

My boyfriend says he was forced to eat stickly barley in kindergarden.

I suspect that the Russian army and kindergarden are sources of food neuroses.

Anonymous said...

Yulinka, I just found your blog, and was so thrilled to see this post! I'm actually a mycologist by training, and it was neat to see what mushrooms you have collected and cooked.

I never heard of the term "penny-bun" mushroom before for Boletus edulis, but I think that's pretty darn cool.

One last mycological confession...we recently bought a couch, and I knew we had to have it when I saw that the color was "porcini!"

Rozmin said...

Yulinka (and other ladies noticing the problem of Russian men and their grain preferences), I have to agree! I don't know about the army part, but definitely kindergarten. My boyfriend claims to hate oatmeal for that reason. Also applesauce. :-)

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