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Mushroom Soup Russian Style

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The first rays of the sun are piercing the crowns of Siberian pines...  A mооsе family trotted afar, and disappeared in the morning fog... An early lizard darted onto the stump, and froze, catching the sunshine... The air is fresh and brisk...  I am walking along the path overgrown with blue moss... I am looking for something. I am hunting, without a gun or a bow, armed with my eyes, a knife, and a basket. Here! Here they are! I see the brown velvet caps of my prey!
Some of you might think, is this woman going nuts today, but this is how I remember our trips to the forest to pick up porcini mushrooms (also king boletus) that are known in Russia as white mushrooms (bielye griby). It was a real hunt, with all the excitement and passion of the game. The reward was a few baskets of one of the best mushrooms.
We dried them for winter use, mostly for soups. You can also make a soup of fresh porcini, but dried mushrooms acquire a unique scent, and these two soups are quite different in taste and flavor.
Today's recipe is for dried porcini mushrooms. To me, this soup  holds the second place after borsch in Russian cuisine. It is rich and aromatic, and can thoroughly warm up one's body and soul on a cold winter day.

What you need:
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms, coarsely broken
9 cups filtered water
2 Idaho potatoes, cubed or julienned
1 onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup barley, boiled and rinsed after boiling
3 tbsp olive oil
Sour cream 
Prep time: about 2.5 hours
Feeds 6 people

Cover mushrooms with filtered water, and set aside to brew and soak for minimum 1 hour. Water will become dark, and that's what you need. A good mushroom soup must be rich dark brown color.
Broken mushrooms cook faster
Put soaked mushrooms with precious porcini liquid on high heat, bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low, add some salt, and simmer for about 1 hour.

Prepare barley in a separate sauce pan. Rinse barley in cold water, cover with 3 cups of filtered water, add a pinch of salt, and boil on low heat until it is soft and tender, but not falling apart, about 1 hour (depends on quality of grain). Then rinse in a sieve with cold water (it removes starchiness from the surface of the grain), drain, and set aside.

Brewed mushrooms
After 1 hour of boiling mushrooms, add potatoes, salt to taste, boil on medium until potatoes are soft. While potatoes are boiling, saute onions in oil until slightly golden.

When potatoes are ready, add onions and barley to the soup, and simmer 5 more minutes. If soup is too thick, add another cup of boiling water, taste for salt, and simmer for 1 minute stirring.
Serve hot with sour cream, freshly ground black pepper, and whole grain or rye bread.

If you prefer to see whole pieces of mushrooms in your soup, soak overnight, but this will work only with the best quality mushrooms.
Commercially produced mushrooms are not cleaned enough before drying, so it's better to rinse them with cold water in a sieve before soaking, otherwise you might end up with sand in your soup.
In America today you can buy porcini almost in every big grocery store, also try specialty stores, and BJ's Whole Sale Club (where so far  I bought the best dried porcini in a big jar), you also can buy them online.
As you can see, this soup is vegetarian, but it has a lot of substance and gives you all needed energy to fulfil your day chores. Another soulful Russian soup...


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