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This past summer an old friend from Pittsburgh told me about her Polish Christmas Eve tradition - Mushroom Soup. The mushroom soup is part of a several course meatless meal called a Wigilia. Also served are perogies, sauerkraut and other traditional polish foods. Her family’s mushroom soup was described as a dark broth rendered from the soaking of boletes overnight. A quick search found oodles of Polish Christmas Eve recipes and traditions available on the web. The mushroom soup can contain barley (zupa grzubowa z kluski), egg noodles and cream (zupa grzybowa) clear mushroom soup (czysta zupa grzybowa) or country style sour with potatoes (zupa grzybowa po wiejsku) to name a few. Since so many recipes with fun polish names are available (and I'm not polish), I decided to stray a little from the traditional. This recipe is for a porcini mushroom soup with rice. In honor of my husband who loved cream of mushroom soup with rice that was often made when he was backpacking with the boy scouts.
ABOVE: Polish Christmas mushroom soup with rice and porcini
The foraging for deep roots (mycellium) of mushroom is still alive and well today in most eastern European countries. What I love the most about this tradition is thinking back on a simpler time when families would gather mushrooms in the forest especially for this Christmas Eve meal. I can imagine this was the delightful chore for the children of the family, foraging in the woods with an elder, or bringing home their baskets of fungi to be taught by grandmother about which ones to look for and which ones to avoid. The Christmas mushrooms would be carefully strung to dry, and tucked away for the day of the Wigilia feast. Eating mushroom soup on a cold winter’s day by a warm fire and reflecting on the happy days when the mushrooms were collected would make for a perfect winter celebration.
I have found myself over the years hosting more friends and family with alternative diets for the holidays. Whether it be vegan, vegetarian, gluten free or all organic I always try to make my guests feel loved and included by providing delicious food that they can enjoy without straying from their normal diets. Luckily for vegetarians there are many recipes based on the tradition of a Christmas Eve meatless meal, which is standard in Catholic, Russian Orthodox and other religions.These types of feasts probably even date back to a pagan tradition of making bloodless offerings, in this the darkest time of the year.
I also love to experiment with new foods so I look at these eaters as an excuse to try new festive and out of the ordinary dishes for these celebrations. Mushrooms are perfect for this reason, they are special enough to serve for the holidays and also provide a healthy and delicious source of protein for alternative diets and omnivores alike.
You will need:
1 large onion diced
1 cup diced carrots
3 cloves garlic
2 sprigs parsley
½ c sauerkraut (I prefer brands sold in bags that can be found the deli section)
1 ½ c long grain rice
salt and pepper to taste
1c half and half (can be left out to make this recipe vegan)
Place dried mushrooms in a large glass measuring bowl, add cold water to the 8 cups line, soak for 4 to 24 hours stirring occasionally. Strain mushrooms and reserve liquid. Roughly chop mushrooms into ½ to 1 inch pieces.
LEFT: Dried, sliced porcini in bowl ABOVE: Rehydrate mushrooms for up to 24 hours RIGHT: Strain and chop
Saute diced onions and carrots until onions are translucent. Add garlic, stock, mushrooms and reserved mushroom liquid being sure not to include any grit that has accumulated in the bottom of the bowl. Cover and simmer soup until the vegetables are tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Add sauerkraut and bring soup up to a boil. Add rice and bring soup back up to a full boil for 1 minute, turn down and simmer for another 10 minutes for rice cooked to al dente. Remove from heat, stir in 1 cup of half and half and season with salt and pepper.
LEFT: Diced carrots and onions await the saute RIGHT: Be sure to leave the grit behind in the mushroom stock