Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mushroom Celery Root & Leek Soup

When I spent a semester in Prague, I was jealous of a girl in my program who went to the woods with a Czech family to pick mushrooms. How was I not informed of this journey?! I had a fabulous cliché vision of a Mucha maiden, basket in hand, bonnet in hair, foraging around mossy logs. I attempted to steal away one weekend myself, but was warned of the dangers of picking harmless looking poisons. I remained in the city sulking.

A few years later I met up with family in Latvia. The days were full of sightseeing in and around Riga and visits to the countryside to meet assorted relatives. Nights were another story… Attempting to hold my own against Baltic blood, I confronted 2 straight weeks of vodka soaked nights. I would awake mid-morning to find bottles from the night before stacked by the door. My uncle laughed as he told me the golden rule if invited to a dinner party: one bottle of vodka per person will be consumed, plus one for the hosts to save. I was proud my college days kept me going as long as they did. By the start of the second week I was tired of drinking. “Stacite, no drink?” “NO! Done. No more.” I would go to the bathroom and return to find my juice spiked. One of those hazy mornings my uncle shook me: “I’m going to pick mushrooms, want to come?”

Yes! I want to go! But you fill me with so much vodka, challenging my heritage I cannot move!

So he left, without me, and returned hours later with a full garbage bag size of mushrooms. Fresh—from the market—not the forest. I may still have my chance yet.

I love mushrooms earthy meaty flavor. Raw, buttery, caramelized, fried or in soup, they are a perfect addition to countless feasts. This soup is great because it uses so few ingredients. I took the brain-like ball that is celery root, added my all-time favorite flavor enhancer the leek, and tossed in the protein savory goodness of cremini mushrooms. Cremini mushrooms are also known as brown mushrooms, they are a bit more flavorful than the standard white button mushroom. Once blended, the result is a delicious thick soup with chunks of mushroom. Add cream and it turns into a creamy treat.

Makes 6 servings. Prep time= 30 minutes. Cook time= 40 minutes
* 1 lb cremini mushrooms, quartered
* 3 leeks, cleaned well and chopped
* 2 celery roots, skinned and cut into 8 chunks (celery root has the consistency of a potato with a salty celery-like edge)
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 2 stalks celery, chopped
* 4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
* 4 Tbl butter
* 6 cups water (or leftover vegetable juices. Yes, I save vegetable juices)

1) In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and allow to cook down, 10-15 minutes, stir occasionally. (While mushrooms are cooking, slice the other vegetables.)
2) Remove half the mushrooms and set aside. Add leeks, onion, celery, garlic. Sauté until limp, about 8 minutes. Add celery root and water (or vegetable juice). Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat. Simmer until celery roots are soft when poked with a fork (about 30 minutes).
3) Once celery roots are soft, blend the soup. Use a handheld blender (highly recommended) or in batches with a stationary blender. Dish into bowls, pour in 1-2 Tbl of cream or milk, sprinkle with mushrooms that were set aside. Flavor with salt/ pepper to taste.

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