Guys! Guys! I have now been writing Optional Kitchen for a whole year. I hope that I’ll look back on this post in another year, or five, or ten, and think “jeez, Mike, calm down with your 1 single year.” But at the moment, it feels rather momentous! And it calls for a celebration! (But for fewer exclamation points in the following paragraphs, I promise.)
The very first recipe I posted was a Smoky lentil soup with spinach & kalamata olives, which I’d made for a fundraiser at work. It seems only fitting, then, that I write up the soup I made this year as an anniversary post. And what a soup! This is for the mushroom lovers: a thick, rich soup, heavy with 2 pounds of mushrooms in a single batch, the fresh mushrooms backed up with dried porcini to deepen the flavor with their meaty smokiness.
While most bisques are lightened with heavy cream, I opted to use coconut milk here. My purpose was simply to make the soup available to a wider dietary range, and honestly the flavor of the coconut mostly disappears beneath the savor of the mushrooms. But while you’re eating, don’t be surprised if the faintest whiff of sweet coconut rolls across your palate — I find it a welcome extra gift, a sort of accidental lagniappe.
Finished with a sprinkling of mini-croutons or — my favorite — some fried shallots, this mushroom bisque is a distillation of fall in a bowl or a mug. It’s lovely as a midday, midweek meal, but would also go beautifully on your Thanksgiving table. And since it’s vegan (and can even be gluten-free; see the Options), most anyone can partake and enjoy. Bon appetit, and here’s to another year of good eating!
This is a rich, thick soup with a secret ingredient: coconut milk gives heft, but fades to the barest whisper of an aroma. Serve it in a mug for a simple midweek lunch, or use your finest china for an elegant Thanksgiving starter — it can do both! And since it’s vegan (and potentially gluten-free; see Options), most anyone can enjoy.
Fried shallots (my preferred garnish) are a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisines, so look for them in an Asian market, where they might be labeled as “fried red onion.” If you can’t find them, French fried onions (yes, the same ones you might use on a green bean casserole) would be a fine swap, as would croutons.
1/2 oz. dried porcini (about 1/2 c)
1 lb button mushrooms, rinsed and chopped
1 lb crimini mushrooms, rinsed and chopped
1 large white onion, diced (about 3 c)
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp flour
1 qt mushroom or vegetable stock (or water)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp black pepper
1 can coconut milk (14 oz)
Salt to taste
Fried shallots, to serve
In a small heatproof bowl, cover the porcini with boiling water and let steep.
In a large soup pot or Dutch onion over high heat, cook the fresh mushrooms and onions in the olive oil, stirring occasionally, until the liquid from the mushrooms has mostly evaporated and the vegetables have begun to stick (10-15 minutes). Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until mushrooms have lightly browned (another 10 minutes or so).
Sprinkle in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until all the raw flour has disappeared. Slowly add in stock, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot as you go.
Remove the porcini from their steeping liquid with a slotted spoon, then strain the liquid to remove any grit. Add the porcini and their strained liquid to the pot along with the bay leaf, thyme, and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
Fish out the bay leaf and blend the soup. (This is easiest with an immersion blender, but you can also do so in a standard blender — work in batches and use proper hot-liquid-blending technique.) Add the can of coconut milk to the pot, stir to combine thoroughly, and salt to taste. (This will vary with whether your stock is salted or not; if it’s not, start with about a teaspoon and a half, and work up from there.)
Serve with a generous sprinkle of fried shallots for extra fancy (and extra delicious).
I chose to use a mix of button mushrooms and criminis because they are cheap and easy to source in most groceries. Almost any fresh mushrooms would work here, though, as long as you end up with around 2 lbs. total. (And if you go with nothing but button mushrooms, that’ll work fine, too.) The dried mushrooms are important to getting a good depth of flavor, but you could swap in a dried wild mushroom mix, if that’s more your style.
Gluten free option: Omit the flour. When you add the coconut milk, also add a slurry of 1/4 c cornstarch and 1/2 c water. Heat over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until the soup thickens — try not to boil the soup, which can lessen the starch’s thickening power.