“I’ve never had a good mushroom soup,” said Kev.
Bejaysus but it was quite the statement with which to launch into a lunchtime conversation at work.
It turns out that most of the people around the table had rather definite opinions on mushroom soup. While I would not, myself, have gone as far as to say that I had never had a good mushroom soup, I’ve certainly had my fair share of bad ones. Brian volunteered that he had once had a good mushroom soup from a packet, Dave that he once had a good mushroom soup experience, but it was somewhere exotic like Thailand. From the point of view of those seeking mushroom soup nirvana, it all sounded pretty grim, frankly. Except for the bit about being in Thailand. It also had the distinct whiff of a challenge, one that would more than likely find me whipping mushrooms and spuds into some kind of soupy frenzy.
Cue the return of Gorta’s Soup For Life campaign – where, for one week starting this coming Friday, April 8th, a range of restaurateurs in Dublin and Cork will be donating €1 per bowl of soup sold to fund Gorta’s work in Africa. The making of some decent mushroom soup seemed an appropriate way to follow on from my last year’s soupy contribution to their campaign.
Not only that, but my newly acquired Everything Guide to Food Remedies informed me that mushrooms are a good source of anti-cancer compounds. The book is written by Lori Rice, a trained nutritionist whom I’ve gotten to know through her blog Fake Food Free. She has a practical and pragmatic approach to eating and wellness, and the book steps through the foods that can help to address and alleviate specific ailments, along with clear and accessible recipes. I was thrilled to receive a copy from Lori, it’s a worthy addition to my bookshelf.
What ails me right now, though? The fact that I am still lacking some quality mushroom soup. Fortunately, I have a remedy at hand.
Mushroom, Celeriac and Potato Soup
So, the secret a good mushroom soup?
Well, you’d do well to start by using some tasty mushrooms. There are many wonderful varieties of wild mushroom that would do wonders to any soup but, unless you’re given to foraging, these can be expensive and difficult to come by. My solution to making more of an everyday mushroom soup was two-fold (1) use dried shiitake mushrooms, which I find reasonably priced if sourced from an Asian shop (2) use regular white mushrooms or their slightly more flavourful brown cousins (chestnut mushrooms), but concentrate their flavour by frying them in butter until well browned and add them to the soup at the end of cooking.
I will also say that this soup isn’t all about the mushrooms, as there’s plenty of body from the potatoes and celeriac, which is, I think, how I prefer it.
For the soup:
- 75g dried shiitake mushrooms
- vegetable oil for frying
- 1 smallish onion, about 125g, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 0.25 tsp dried thyme
- approx. 300g potato, peeled and chopped into approx 0.5cm dice
- approx. 300g celeriac, skin sliced off and chopped into approx 0.5cm dice
- 150ml dry white wine (one you’d drink yourself)
- 200g chestnut or white button mushrooms, wiped clean and finely sliced
- butter for frying
- 2 tsp lemon juice or to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
To garnish (optional):
- fresh sage leaves, fried in butter until browned and crispy
- chopped flat leaf parsley
- grated parmesan
You’ll also need:
- A blender or food processor for blending the soup – an immersion blender is handiest.
- Rinse the dried shiitake mushrooms to remove any dust, then soak in approx. 750ml cold water for several hours or overnight in the fridge, until softened. Alternatively, soak in warm water for 45 minutes to an hour. When softened, remove the stalks from the mushrooms and chop the mushroom caps finely. Reserve the soaking liquid.
- Place a large, heavy saucepan over a medium heat. When hot, add enough oil to coat the pan. Add the chopped onions and a pinch of salt. Stir and fry for 4-5 minutes, until they have turned translucent.
- Add the chopped garlic and the thyme and stir and fry for another minute or so.
- Stir in the chopped potato and celeriac, and add the white wine. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and let the wine simmer for a few minutes to reduce a little.
- Add the chopped shiitake mushrooms and the reserved soaking liquid and about 1 tsp salt. Top up with a little water, if needed, to just cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for around 25 minutes or until the vegetables have softened.
- While the soup is simmering, fry the chestnut mushrooms. Place a large frying pan over a medium heat. You don’t want to crowd the mushrooms too much, so you’ll need to fry them in 2-3 batches, depending on the size of your pan. When hot, add about 0.5 tblsp butter to the pan. When that has melted add a layer of mushrooms. Fry for around 8-10 minutes, without stirring, until well browned on the pan-side. Stir and flip the mushrooms over to fry on the other side for a few more minutes, then remove to some kitchen paper and repeat for the next batch(es).
- When the vegetables in the soup have softened, remove from the heat and blend. The soup will be quite thick, so thin with additional boiling water as desired. Add the lemon juice, black pepper and additional salt to your taste.
- Roughly chop the fried chestnut mushrooms and stir into the soup.
- Ladle into bowls and garnish with some crumbled fried sage leaves or chopped flat leaf parsley and a little bit of grated parmesan if you like. Enjoy along with the rest of that bottle of wine you had to open. You know you want to.
- If you want a soup that’s more overtly mushroomy, then you could add more shiitake mushrooms here or perhaps some dried and soaked porcini. You could also add a little dried sage along with the dried thyme.
- Makes around 4 hearty servings of soup