Posted by: ThePseudotarian | June 15, 2010

A return to freshness (and Korean Mushroom Soup)

I broke my rules on Monday. I was at the office working on a big project and went out to our local supermarket to grab a salad … and forgot my debit card. After the mortifying shock of getting to the register and not being able to pay, I slunk back to the office hungry and embarrassed. Matt, being the wonderful person that he is, brought me lunch a few hours later. I had asked him to bring me a Cedar Lane stuffed focaccia. All natural … but processed all the same.

Yuck.

I mean … it was okay … but all I could think about was that I wished I could make my own without all the salt and with much higher quality ingredients. Maybe I will? Unfortunately, I’ll need to purchase the foccacia part, since I’m an inexcusably terrible baker.

So with that said, all week I’ve been craving fresh, non-frozen foods. When this happens, I often find myself flipping through cookbooks and online bookmarks waiting for something to jump out. This time, I knew just by looking in my fridge and pantry. Korean Mushroom Soup from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Matt cooked this for me several months ago when I was sick, and I’ve been hooked since. The broth packs a deep, earthy flavor and let’s be honest here – I freaking love mushrooms. Seriously. And what sets this soup apart from other mushroom soups I love (and adore and consume with great happiness) is 2-3 tablespoons of dark sesame oil.

Bittman’s recipe calls for 8 oz of silken tofu tossed into the broth, but I’m in the camp where I could survive vegetarianism without a single bite of tofu. However, I’ll tolerate it when it’s sauteed until the outer ‘skin’ is nice and crisp. Otherwise, tofu seems just slimy to me. That’s why I changed this recipe a little bit and used firm tofu that I sauteed for a few minutes before adding to the pot.

With that said, this 8-ingredient soup is a great, rejuvenating return to earth.

Mark Bittman’s Korean Mushroom Soup

1/2 oz. dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms
3 tbsp dark sesame oil
8 oz sliced fresh button or shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded
1 tbsp minced garlic
3/4 cup of chopped scallion
About 6 cups mushroom (recommended) or vegetable stock
8 oz of firm tofu, cubed
2 tbsp soy sauce – or to taste

salt and pepper

Place dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 30 minutes (for shiitakes) until mushrooms are soft and reconstituted. Porcinis and many other wild mushrooms will not take as long to soften.

Put 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil in a deep skillet or pot and heat over medium-high. When hot, add the fresh, sliced mushrooms. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are a rich, deep brown and have released their liquid.

Meanwhile, drain the reconstituted mushrooms from the bowl (reserve the soaking liquid) and chop and slice as necessary. If you’ve ever soaked dried mushrooms before, you know they swell into large, slurpy pieces. I’m usually okay with this, but sometimes the texture can feel a little weird as you’re eating.

After the fresh mushrooms have released their liquid and are nicely brown, add the sliced and chopped (formerly) dried mushrooms. Let these cook another 10 minutes or so until they are also browned. Add the garlic and half the scallion, and cook for about a minute until the garlic is fragrant.

Strain the mushroom soaking liquid and add enough mushroom or vegetable stock to make 6 cups.  Pour this over the mushrooms and bring to a simmer. I like to let this soup simmer for about 10 minutes or so to let the flavors marry and mingle (how cliche is that?).

Meanwhile, heat another tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the cubed tofu. Saute, tossing to ensure that all sides crisp to a nice golden brown color. Here, you can salt or season the tofu a bit. I added some tarragon (I love the tarragon and mushroom combination) and salt and pepper. When the tofu is nice and golden-brown and the soup has simmered, add the tofu to the pot along with the soy sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with the remaining scallions and a bit of sesame oil.

This soup can be a little bit of work, but it’s so worth it. All the chopping, soaking, and sauteeing creates a wonderful depth to a simple recipe. The deep brown sesame oil is an amazing addition. However, a word of caution: don’t over do it. The flavors of this soup are subtle and earthy, but the dark sesame oil can easily overpower them if you add too much.

Oh! And the leftovers are wonderful! I let them sit in my fridge for a day, before reheating, adding some egg noodles and more mushroom broth. The light oriental twist is great for a noodle soup.

I know I’ve posting a lot of soup and pasta recipes, but I promise that next up will be something a bit different. I can’t promise it won’t have mushrooms in it though  =)

Note: This recipe was adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe for Korean Mushroom Soup in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

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