“It is said that hobbits have a passion for mushrooms, surpassing even the greediest likings of big people.” – JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.
I have always had an affinity for mushrooms and I remember as a child that I was well known to pick out the mushrooms from Chinese stir fries, and to this day I still think that the only soup worth buying from the Campbell soup range is mushroom soup. Growing up in Asia I think my initial experience of mushrooms was limited to dried shiitake mushrooms and to straw mushrooms and button mushrooms in a can, and I remember being overwhelmed when I saw the absolute array of wild mushrooms at Borough Market in London as an adult. It is fascinating how the different kinds of mushrooms have different grades of earthy flavours and textures and can elevate different dishes in such diverse ways. Mushrooms are low carb (about 4 g carbs in 100 g) and are sometimes thought to be the ‘meat’ of the vegetable world.
To me, mushroom soup is comfort food personified. Which I really needed this weekend after managing a family in deep denial of their child’s condition. Working among children with special needs as well as those with potentially fatal neurological conditions, I have always found that the majority of families develop a kind of resilience and a tough inner core that allows them to manage their child’s incurable illness. And I have always been personally strengthened by the joy these families have in seeing tiny achievements these children make and their ability to handle bad times when they come. There is some kind of grace under fire that adversity seems to uncover and I have often looked for what it is that gives some families such strength not only to look after their own children but also to be able to support other families that are struggling emotionally. I think that ultimately the parents that have this extra quality of resilience and strength have an inner posture of acceptance of the child and the illness as well as a trust in God that is real and present in suffering. And the truth is that when I look at these families I am often put to shame – I remember many years ago, completely dissolving when kid #1 had diarrhea a few days after he was born. It was such a trivial event but it completely overwhelmed me. It was probably postnatal hormones but I think as a new parent there was an absolute compulsion to make sure my child was perfectly well. And perhaps looking backwards at the parenthood journey I realise that parenting is probably a process of having and letting go of the child as he or she grows up. For my families of special needs kids, perhaps this letting go is an accelerated process as many may not reach adulthood.
Still once in a while I do come across a family that cannot cope with the child’s illness. And it is hard to stand by and see families crumble under the fear of the future or those that isolate themselves to nurse their private pain. And it is additionally difficult when some even have an irrational fear of seeing me as they fear any bad news I may have to give to them. So there are days that I come home and I need some distraction; something to do with my hands as I try to recalibrate myself and my own emotions as we don’t really walk away from these encounters unscathed. Cooking is a marvelous distraction and at least it is relatively productive. Especially when it has brilliant results like this thick, creamy, comforting and soul-warming as this mushroom soup. This soup is a meal in itself and the mushroomyness is amped up with the use of dried porcini mushrooms. I have done this soup with different kinds of mushrooms and in the end the only advice I would give is just to avoid using Shiitake mushrooms which are just plain weird in this kind of soup. White button or brown cremeni mushrooms work best.
LOW CARB MUSHROOM SOUP
- 800 g fresh button (white or brown) mushrooms, sliced
- 10 g dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1L water
- 1 cup cream
- 2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in 1 cup of hot boiling water. Set aside.
- In a large soup pot, heat the butter over medium heat till it starts to brown
- Add the chopped onions and sauté for about 4 – 5 minutes till translucent and fragrant, and slightly caramelized.
- Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms soften and render some fluid.
- Add the porcini mushrooms and the soaking liquid. Add the water and bring the soup to a boil. Simmer for 15 – 20 minutes. Add 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp ground black pepper.
- With a hand blender, blend the soup (or use a stand blender and blend the soup in batches). Keep aside 2-3 tbsp of unblended mushrooms for decoration later.
- Add the cream and heat through another 3-4 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Ladle into soup bowls and top with several slices of mushrooms and a pinch of chopped parsley.