Recipe: Mushroom Soup

May 13, 2013

Most people crave things that are sugary or greasy or otherwise unhealthy. Chocolate cake, for example. Or French fries—did you know French fries are the First Lady’s guilty pleasure? I knew I liked her for reasons beyond her politics and dedication to tackling childhood obesity. Most people, including health conscious ones, crave junk food, or at least that’s what they are vocal about craving. I don’t generally crave junk food. Aside from French fries, which I want to eat about 90% of the time, my food cravings are a little on the unorthodox side.

For example, the other day I was driving home from work, sitting in traffic on what must be the worst freeway in LA and thinking about how incompetent my health insurance company is, when all of a sudden I felt this overpowering urge for a glass of grapefruit juice. The odd part is that I don’t ever drink grapefruit juice. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I smelled grapefruit. Now you could argue this was my body telling me I need vitamin C, but if that were the case wouldn’t I crave orange juice, which I used to drink every morning?

Some of my more frequent cravings include tomatoes, pasta with lentils and Swiss chard, dumplings, peach ice cream, and Trader Joe’s olive hummus. None of these foods are that high in sugar or dense in calories (ice cream aside, obviously), and they’re not engineered by the food industry to induce cravings. So why on earth do I wake up in the morning and immediately think about, for instance, roast chicken with tahini sauce? It’s like my body is in a perpetual state of hysterical pregnancy.

Perhaps these odd cravings are genetic. As a child I remember my mother declaring, about once a month, that she had to eat spaghetti and tomato sauce so that’s what we were having for dinner. Obviously, no one complained. And come to think of it, I always smothered my spaghetti and tomato sauce with cheddar cheese, another food item I crave.  I used to crave it more often until I decided never to keep it in my fridge because my body believes, and manages to convince my brain, that a chunk of cheddar cheese is a perfectly suitable snack at any time of the day regardless of whether or not I am actually hungry.

I imagine cravings as a game of telephone between the body and the brain. Sometimes the message goes through, and sometimes it gets poorly translated along the way and becomes a totally distorted version of the original message. Maybe when I was driving home from work I actually craved orange juice, but when my body sent the signal to my brain, it collided with a memory of an article I read about grapefruit juice fatalities, and it came through as “drink grapefruit juice now or you’ll die.”

Similarly, one afternoon I began to crave mushroom soup for no discernible reason. I’m not even certain I’ve ever had mushroom soup, but the soup of my imagining was creamy and packed with mushroom flavor. I decided to give it a try. Jamie Oliver’s recipe for mushroom soup is similar to what I had I mind—it doesn’t have heavy cream which I think detracts from the flavor of most soups—so I used it as a rough guide.

Instead of the mascarpone in Oliver’s recipe, I used cream cheese because it’s cheaper and I already had some at home.  I knew my mushroom soup would need some fresh thyme (thyme and mushrooms are a perfect combination) and onion or shallots. I opted not to use dried mushrooms because I figured I wouldn’t need to intensify the mushroom flavor of a soup made almost entirely of mushrooms. Lastly, I decided to use a variety of mushrooms and sauté some of them so with each bite I’d get a different variety of chewy mushroom.

The soup that I set out to create sounded so delicious that I didn’t expect the reality to meet my expectations. Surprisingly, my mushroom soup came out exactly like I wanted it to on the first try. I’ve already made it twice and I’m eager to see how it freezes so I can make big batches of it for weeknight dinners. I love this soup so much that I crave it for breakfast! And that may be my strangest craving to date.

Mushroom Soup

<center><br><br>Mushroom Soup

1 ½ lbs mushrooms – oyster, shiitake, button, porcini, king trumpet, etc. (see note*)
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2 medium shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced and divided
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 cups vegetable stock
3 cups water
2 oz cream cheese, room temperature (optional, see note**)
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped parsley for garnish
Grated lemon zest for garnish, optional

Clean and slice the mushrooms.

Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and half the garlic. Sauté until the shallots are soft, about 5 minutes. Add two thirds of the sliced mushrooms and sauté until they release their liquid, another 5 minutes or so. Stir in the thyme, broth, and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for half an hour.

While the soup cooks, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a skillet over high heat and sauté the remaining third of the mushrooms with the other half of the garlic. Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until soft and lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the soup pot from the heat and add the cream cheese. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. (You can also use a regular blender but you have to either let it cool slightly or place a towel over the blender instead of the lid to prevent steam buildup—otherwise you’ll have a mushroom explosion in your kitchen!)

Return the soup to the heat and simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir in the sautéed mushrooms. Garnish with parsley and/or grated lemon zest.

The soup can be served by itself or with a crusty sourdough bread or toasted baguette.

*Note: I use a mixture of king trumpet, oyster, and white button mushrooms. King trumpet (also called king oyster) mushrooms are fantastic in this soup because of their buttery flavor and chewy texture. Just don’t use dried mushrooms.

**Note: The soup is delicious without the cream cheese, so vegans can omit it entirely. I think Tofutti or possibly cashew cream would be a good substitute.


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