Healing Cream of Mushroom Soup with Ajwain Seeds

When I was a child I couldn't stand mushrooms, but as I got older, I started to crave them.  The earthy smell of them which once repulsed me became interesting and it made me curious. Now they're a favorite. Mushrooms have some unique features and if you understand how they work, you can enjoy them.  If you aren't aware of their pitfalls, you can end up with your food turning black or the mushrooms becoming rubbery at the wrong moment.  Let's explore a simple use of basic mushrooms, the homemade version of canned cream of mushroom soup - with a kick!

WARNING:  Many mushrooms are grown on gluten containing media!  I am usually fine with mushrooms but today (May 15th, 2018) I was glutened by sliced mushrooms.   I thought I was going crazy or imagining it, but I wasn't.  Here is more on how that happens.


General Principles when Cooking with Mushrooms


1.  If you boil them, they will be chewy, even rubbery, so keep boiling to a minimum unless you want a chewy texture. 

2.  They absorb liquids, so once they are in a liquid, make sure it's a liquid that contains flavors you want.  Marinate them if you are going to bake them up as stuffed mushrooms.  This not only improves flavor, but toughens the texture so they won't break so easy.

3.  While debates rage about whether it's better to wash them or brush them free of dirt, my advice is to do both.  Washing can't remove some of the stuck on dirt bits, so brush as you wash. The exception is if you're going to saute them and want them to crisp in a reasonable time. Since we're making soup, it's safe to wash and brush off dirt, but work quickly and do not soak them in plain water, ever.

5.  Always buy the freshest mushrooms you can, and always use them the SAME day.  Maximum time you should keep mushrooms at home is 24 hours.  This is because they are alive and growing, so if they are suffocated in a plastic bag, they will get slimy-sweaty (yuck!). They may be fine in the fridge for several days, but you won't enjoy them as much as when they are fresh.

6. If mushrooms are exposed to air in order to prevent the slime from forming, they will continue to mature and eventually release spores.  Once the caps have pulled away from the stems, the mushrooms are still usable from a nutrition standpoint, but the food will TURN BLACK!  This can be useful if that's what you want (maybe in a dipping sauce recipe for novelty), but if it's not, then stick to fresh, immature mushrooms or remove the gills from larger ones.



7.  I usually make and keep a tupperware container partly full with sauteed mushrooms and onions to add flavor to soups or even breakfast omelets.   Get in the habit, you won't be sorry. If you use them same day, you can even save labor by buying the presliced ones for this purpose.

8.  Buy mushrooms whole, always (except as noted in #7).  Buy an egg slicer if you really dislike slicing things, but this step will save you a lot of trouble with mushrooms.

9.  You can boost the Vitamin D content of your mushrooms if you set them in a sunny spot for as short as 15-30 minutes!  The vitamin D that mushrooms make is D2 which is not fashionable right now, especially with the Paleo community.  But some people, like me, assimilate that better for some reason, and this is a great way to get some. You can even sun-dry them and store them for winter!

10.  Canned mushrooms are okay for purposes where you won't notice the texture, such as dipping sauces that are pureed before serving. Otherwise avoid them. You'll get more flavor and get a chance to boost the Vitamin D content if you buy fresh.

Healing Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup - Gluten Free


Two 8-oz containers of plain mushrooms, organic preferred
4 cloves of peeled fresh garlic, crushed and soaking in a bit of water (wondering why? look here)
3 tablespoons ghee or butter + 2 more tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons of sweet rice flour or white rice flour (I used sweet, it's what I had)
1/2 medium onion (substitute 4 inches of a grated parsnip if you are FODMAP sensitive)

Liquids:

4 cups milk    ...or 3 cups + 1 cup cream
2 cups water
a splash of white wine (optional but tasty)
*possibly 1 more cup of milk for thinning the soup if it is too thick*
salt and pepper to taste (white pepper if you have it)

Secret Ingredients / Nutrition Boosts: 

1 teaspoon Ajwain or Bishop Seeds (available on Amazon if you can't find it at your local Indian food store) - I would describe these as a pungent celery flavor with a bit of heat, very nice and complex.  A more "normal" spice to add a bit of kick might be rosemary, or caraway, according to your preference.

A piece of Kombu seaweed about 6 inches long and 1 inch wide.  This can be removed later or eaten. It will just contribute some thickening and iodine.

1/2 cup Liquid Egg Whites (optional protein boost)

A 1 inch by 6 inch piece of Kombu Seaweed will become larger when cooked, and is a natural source of iodine. Iodine is required for making many hormones, including thyroid hormones. If you remove it later, it doesn't change the quality of the soup, or the flavor.  If you decide to eat it, the texture is similar to pasta.

Instructions:


1.  Chop the mushrooms and onions. In a large frying pan, saucier, or wide saucepan, on medium-high heat, combine with the 3 tablespoons ghee/butter and a pinch of salt, and sautee for about 5 minutes. Stir frequently. If it begins to brown, take it off the heat.

2.  Remove and reserve 1/2 of the mushroom/onion mixture. This will be added back later to provide texture to the soup.

3.  Add the 2 tablespoons of oil to the mixture, and replace on the heat, reduce heat to medium. When sizzling, sprinkle flour evenly over the top and stir. (making roux)  Once combined, it should be liquid, not dry and crumbly.  Stir at least once every 15 seconds until the smell changes and it smells a bit toasted.

If you've made roux before, the smell and performance of rice flour will be different from wheat flour.  Rice flour roux is a much more powerful thickener, and it needs a bit more time to toast. If you enjoy the challenge of making darker roux, you can let it toast longer.  The formula of 1 Tablespoon per pint of liquid is not required, you can use less flour if the flour is rice flour.  It also tends to combine better with the oil and becomes liquid, so the tendency is to use more of it, but that will just lead to a soup that is too thick. Roux is a useful skill everyone can benefit from.
4.  Combine the splash of wine with the milk/cream and add, all at once, to the saucepan. Stir vigorously, it should thicken quickly, possibly even becoming too thick.  Add water, at least two cups, but you may need more.

5.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of Ajwain seeds.  Bring just to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

5.  Take off the heat, use a stick blender to smooth the soup and half of the mushrooms.

6.  Add the rest of the seasonings and kombu, replace the reserved mushrooms, and allow to simmer 2-3 minutes, stirring gently.  It will form a foamy top, so watch it carefully to prevent boilover.

7.  If using liquid egg whites, stir them in while it simmers and keep stirring at least another minute. 

7.  Stir in the garlic at the end, after you've turned off the heat (and moved the pot off the stove, if you have an electric stove).

8.  Taste to correct salt and seasonings, and serve with crusty gluten free bread or croutons.

9.  If using a protein powder, add it in the bowl before serving and stir in completely.  If it's too gritty that way, then add it to the water before adding liquids and allow it to cook with the soup, together. See more notes on protein powders in final thoughts (below).

Final thoughts


Kombu is nice in this because its slimy qualities are completely lost in the creamy soup.  Once cooked, its texture is a lot like pasta, not at all unpleasant.  Kombu can be a challenge for some people, but cream soups seem to mitigate the problems.

Other gluten free protein powders melt imperceptibly into this soup, but be careful to get an unflavored one and sniff it, or even taste it before adding.  You don't want to introduce off flavors.  Rice protein powder is usually very neutral tasting.  Whey protein (if GF) may have an off flavor, so taste it, first.  Some bodybuilding specialty stores have a wide variety of purified protein sources. Keep in mind that animal sources of protein are higher quality and better nutrition, so consider the purified milk or egg proteins if you are not allergic.

For the thrifty, be sure to check into growing mushrooms at home, but that's beyond the scope of this post.

I didn't add soy sauce or bullion cubes to this version.  If you've been having soup from a can for a long time, and you've been eating in restaurants a lot, you might miss some of the "umami" flavors that are always added to canned or packaged foods.  If you find you miss it too much, add a dash of soy sauce, or make the soup with a bullion cube.  I won't tell!

The ajwain seeds are going to be a risk for people who haven't tried them before.  There's a certain comforting smoothness about this soup, and the pungent little seeds add a contrast that makes the whole soup turn out better.  I suppose a bit of chopped Jalapeno pepper might be similar, but it doesn't have the fresh celery-complexity of the seeds.

Ajwain Seeds, sometimes called Bishop Seeds can be found in Indian and Middle Eastern stores or online.  They have a pungent-spicy flavor that can add interest to a simple nourishing soup.


I hope you've enjoyed reading and learning more about mushrooms with me!  It takes a bit of knowledge to bring out the best in them, but  it's well worth it. 


Bon Appetit!

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