A couple of years ago, Chinatown Center opened in Austin, Tx where I was living. It is in far north Austin and I was living in far South Austin but that did not stop a friend and me from making a trip up there to check it out. I love Asian grocery stores and tend to stock up on a lot of things when I have the chance to visit one. On this trip, I happened on to a one-pound container of dried shiitake mushrooms for about ten dollars. I couldn’t resist. A pound of dried mushrooms is a lot of mushrooms. The jar sat in my pantry for months before I decided what to do with them. I finally came across a recipe for mushroom soup featuring dried porcinis in the February 2007 of Eating Well Magazine and adapted it to use the shiitakes.
Shiitake mushrooms are used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. They contain compounds that are said to enhance the immune system and have a positive effect on cholesterol levels as well as compounds that are anti-bacterial and anti-viral. All mushrooms are rich in antioxidants and vitamins.
I have made this soup using only the shiitakes but they have a very strong taste and I like it better if I use a mix of them with crimini or white button mushrooms. You can use just about any kind of mushrooms you want.
½ cup pearl barley
4½ cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tsp butter
1 Tbls extra virgin olive oil
1 cup minced shallots
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 Tbls minced fresh sage or 1 tsp dried
2Tbls all purpose flour
½ cup dry-to medium sherry (I like Talyor’s)
½ cup sour cream (may use reduced fat)
¼ cup minced fresh chives (optional)
8 cups mushrooms*
Boiling water (if needed)
Salt and pepper to taste.
If using dried mushrooms, place them in a bowl and pour enough boiling water over them to cover. I do this an hour or so before I am ready to make the soup. After most of the liquid has been absorbed, drain the mushrooms through a strainer. I usually reserve the liquid to use in the soup. Cut a small piece of one of the mushrooms and taste it to see if it has dirt in it. If there is grit/dirt, wash the mushrooms thoroughly. If not, you will have gritty soup. Not a good thing. If there is grit and you want to use the liquid you soaked the mushrooms in, just pour it through a coffee filter or double layers of cheesecloth. Finely chop the mushrooms.
Combine barley and 1½ cups of the stock in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil over high heat; cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook 30 to 35 minutes or until the barley is tender.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a Dutch oven or other stock pot and sweat the shallots in it. If you are using fresh mushrooms, add them and cook them about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the celery, sage, salt and pepper. Cook them until the vegetables start to soften. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook it about a minute or until it is incorporated. Add the mushrooms and stir briefly before adding the sherry and cook, scraping down any brown bits with a wooden spoon, until most of the sherry has evaporated. Add the stock and the soaking liquid and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer about 20 minutes or until the celery is tender and the soup is a little bit thickened.
Temper the sour cream with a few spoonfuls of the hot soup before stirring it in. You can leave the soup chunky or use the stick blender to make it pretty smooth. It tastes a little like a veggie version of beef stroganoff to me.
If serving all of the soup, add the cooked barley at this time. We usually can’t eat all of it at one meal so I put the soup in our bowls and we add the barley to each one. I have also frozen the left over soup and it is fine when thawed and reheated.
The soup may be garnished with fresh chives.