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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Friday, February 23

Gapers Block

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I received a great compliment from a friend of my stylist last week. She mentioned that she loved the veggie stock recipe. And she not only isn't a vegetarian but she's mentioned that she's a bit suspicious of people who are. So the fact that she liked the veggie stock, and the fact that we still had a quart, set my mind to thinking about what other yummy stuff I could come up with.

A couple of times a year Andrew and I make a pilgramage to Mitsuwa, which is a Japanese grocery store, liquor store, bookstore, food court, bakery and makeup counter all under one roof out in Arlington Heights. There are so many wonderful items which I just can't get anywhere else and the employees have been most helpful when I've asked them questions.

One of the things I noticed in their produce section was a wide variety of mushrooms. We picked up about 8 ounces of fresh shiitake, 6 ounces of enoki, and about 8 ounces of oyster mushrooms. The Cook's Thesaurus has a decent list and images of different types of mushrooms, along with substitution information, and small bits of cooking advice.

One of the other things I picked up at Mitsuwa was a small tub of organic miso. Miso is most commonly known to people as the soup you eat before you eat sushi. That soup gets its name from its key ingredient, a paste made from fermented soybeans. Miso's health benefits are plentiful and it's pretty affordable. It keeps for quite a while in the refrigerator so it's easy to use a spoon here and there over a few months. And while I use it in this soup, I also have a few other ideas up my sleeve. One of which was inspired by Paul of Food Blog, so stay tuned for that.

And you may not be able to find all the mushrooms I used at your local grocer, but don't fret. Buy a couple of varieties of mushrooms if you have the option &mmdash; if you don't, just get about 1 1/2 pounds of mushrooms total. This is another one of those big pots of something, so you can reduce the ingredients as you see fit to suit your needs. This soup will freeze well for about two or three months if stored in tightly-sealed containers.

The main thing you have to know about mushrooms is that you should rinse them under a gentle stream of cold water before chopping them. Sure, you can buy a little mushroom brush and gently sweep away any dirt particles — or you can quickly rinse them, shake them dry and then chop them. If you were a line chef at Alinea, you might be expected to not damage the subtle flavors of their $500 a pound mushrooms. But since you're at home, making food for friends who are just grateful that you're willing to share, forget all the food snobbery nonsense and just rinse them lightly under cold water.

If you have gnarled bits on the stems of the mushrooms, go ahead and trim those off. Otherwise, keep the stems for this since they'll be chopped pretty finely. Feel free to chop everything really finely or leave some some of the 'shrooms in larger pieces. It all depends on your taste. I chopped the oyster mushrooms and most of the shiitake mushrooms pretty finely, shopped the rest of the shiitake a bit larger, and sliced the enoki stems in half since they were pretty long. Enoki mushrooms look like sort of like a bundle of bean sprouts. They have long stems and small caps. They have a gentle flavor and can be served raw or cooked quickly.

Hearty Mushroom Soup
1 quart of veggie, chicken, or beef broth
2 tablespoons of aka miso (red miso)*
1 teaspoon of dried mushroom powder (optional, but it is an easy way to add richness)
4 cups of water
1 large red onion, chopped roughly
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 1/2 pounds of mushrooms which have been cleaned and chopped to your desired size
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
Soy sauce or salt to taste

* Shiro miso (white miso) or awase miso (blended miso) will also work. Aka has more salt, so taste before salting.

In a large stockpot heat the veggie stock over medium heat. In a 4-cup measuring cup or bowl, add the miso, mushroom powder and water. Stir well to combine and then add into the veggie stock. Taste and add soy sauce or salt as needed. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, add the chopped onion and olive oil. Cook it over medium high heat for about 5 minutes while you're chopping the mushrooms. Once they've softened and have begun to carmelize, reduce the heat to low and continue to cook while you chop the rest of the mushrooms. Add a little more oil if necessary to keep them from sticking. You want them to start to turn golden brown but you don't want them to burn. Once all of your mushrooms are chopped, add two cloves of minced garlic to the onions and stir. Cover and let it steam cook for just a few minutes.

Empty the skillet's contents into the stock, which should be lightly simmering. Return the skillet to the burner, heat to medium high and add the butter and olive oil. Once the butter has melted, throw in your shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Reserve the enoki mushrooms until later. Cook uncovered over medium-high heat for several minutes. They should soften and maybe even start to get crusty in spots. Once they're cooked through and beginning to carmelize (about 7-10 minutes), add them to the stock and stir to incorporate. Add the sesame oil to the stock and stir well. Let it simmer covered for about 10 minutes for the flavors to merge. Taste and add more soy sauce or salt as necessary. Now add the enoki mushrooms if you're using them and cook them for just a minute. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top and a slice of hearty rye bread.

The recipe as stated above will make a very, very chunky soup. We wanted something a bit smoother, so before I added the mushrooms I used a stick blender to make the soup smoother and thicker. A regular blender would work just as well.

This is definitely one of those dishes that tastes delicious the first night you make it, but even more delicious as leftovers. We got five very large servings, which just tasted better each time we warmed them up.

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