Soup is the quintessential winter food. Nothing can get rid of bone-chilling cold better than a hearty bowl of steaming soup.
In the Baltics, where winter and darkness try to dampen the soul, I imagine soup is all but a necessity. At least in my experience there, I found no shortage of amazing soups – from pumpkin to borscht to the amazing cepe (mushroom) soup I mentioned in my last post about Neh, an amazing seasonal restaurant in coastal Tallinn, Estonia. In that soup, earthy cepe and chanterelle mushrooms are made foamy and light with a touch of cream and elegant garnishes.
That perfect winter balance inspired me to adapt an old recipe from my Williams-Sonoma Soup cookbook into something a touch more exotic.
One reason I love to cook soups is how difficult it is to ruin them. For anyone terrified of cooking, unless you burn key ingredients, you can constantly undo, tweak, and refine your own culinary recovery into something worthy of serving to yourself and others.
In this case, I was forced to improvise when unable to find dried mushrooms of any type (my goal was chanterelles, but I could not find so much as dried porcini or shiitake). Fresh mushrooms alone lack the intensity I wanted. If you are able to find dried mushrooms, by all means, use them! They add an entire other level of flavor. Also, I sometimes find fresh mushrooms to be a bit soapy both in taste and texture, and I needed a contrast. I turned to a secret weapon – Balsamic vinegar – to brighten the flavors with nice acidity.
The addition of liqueur really enhanced the meatiness of the mushrooms. I used Vana Tallinn, Estonia’s signature, potent rum-based liqueur, but most of us may be unable to come by Vana Tallinn, so cognac in its place adds a touch of delicate sweetness that is almost undetectable (particularly if serving to kids). though this soup may be better suited for adult palates. No way would I have touched this dish as a child! Touches of heavy cream, truffle-flavored olive oil, and rosemary round out this rich, yet rustic, dish.
I accidentally used only 4 cups of liquid in my own version, but I prefer a thicker soup, and I enjoyed the result. Use 6 cups of broth (or 5 of broth and 1 of water if soaking dried mushrooms) for a lighter soup, but make no exceptions for pureeing the soup. That is one step you must not omit.
One last tip: this soup keeps very well. In fact, I thought the flavors intensified with time, leaving this soup the perfect dinner party candidate to make ahead of time.
Baltic-inspired mushroom soup
Inspired by and adapted from Williams-Sonoma Soup cookbook, 2001 and the blog Melangery – http://www.melangery.com/2011/12/creamy-mushroom-soup.html
- 1 lbs. (500 g.) fresh cremini mushrooms, diced
- 1/2 lb. (250 g.) fresh shiitake mushrooms
- 2 oz. dried chanterelles or other dried mushroom variety (shiitake or porchini) if available
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 1 tbsp. black truffle infused oil OR olive oil
- 1 cup minced shallots
- 1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
- 4 cups (32 fluid oz. or 1 Liter) chicken, beef, or vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp. flour (can be omitted)
- 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz. or 125 mL) whipping (heavy) cream
- 1/3 cup (80 mL) Vana Tallinn liqueur or cognac
- 2 tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. rosemary, ground
- 1 tsp. salt adjusted to taste
- Pepper to taste
- Greek yogurt or sour cream for garnish
- Large pot
- Smaller pot
- Immersion blender, blender, or food processor
Bring stock to a boil. If dried mushrooms are available, rinse and then soak them one cup of the boiling water or stock for 20-30 minutes. Drain and reserve the liquid if desired. Briefly soak the fresh mushrooms in water for about 5 minutes to remove grit. Rinse, drain, and pat dry. Set aside.
In the large (separate) pot, melt butter and heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and shallots and saute until translucent but not browned. Add the fresh mushrooms (both varieties) and toss to coat. Saute until softened (5-7 minutes). Add a small amount of broth if needed to prevent sticking.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour and about 1/4 cup of the heated broth to make a roux. Gradually add this roux to the mushroom mixture. This step can be omitted to keep the dish gluten-free, though the result will be slightly thinner.
Add the broth to the mushrooms. Whisk together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Puree either using an immersion blender in the pot or in batches in a standard blender or food processor. Return to the pot.
Over the medium low heat, whisk in the liqueur or cognac, vinegar, cream, rosemary,salt, and pepper to taste (I use cayenne). Simmer for another 10 minutes or until it reaches the desired thickness and flavor.
Serve with yogurt or sour cream and additional Balsamic vinegar. For a more intense flavor counterpoint to the meaty mushrooms, reduce 3/4 cup of Balsamic vinegar until half of the liquid has evaporated. Add a small amount of butter (1/2 tbsp.) of butter and whisk to make velvety.
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