Roasted Mushroom & Fennel Soup (and a short rant on making and using medicinal mushroom broth)

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If your interest is the rant on mushroom broth, then fast-forward yourself past the soup recipe.  With regards to the soup recipe, it’s what happened when I wanted something decadent but healthy; healing without tasting ”herb-y” (or like something out of a seventies bean cook-book).  I also wanted to clean out what was left in vegetables at the bottom of the fridge.  Happily, unlike many of my other kitchen experiments, it’s worth repeating even if it is a fair bit of work.

Yield: 4 portions

Ingredients:

  • 1 bulb fennel, white parts, cut into 1” chunks
  • 4 oz cremini mushrooms, smaller ones whole, larger ones cut in half
  • 2 oz trumpet mushrooms, cut in four along their length
  • 3 small onions, cut into 3/4” chunks
  • olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 14 oz peeled and finely chopped italian tomatoes (or canned)
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups strong unsalted mushroom broth (recipe and rant below)
  • 1 tsp herbes de provence (store-bought or home-made)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch

Instructions:

  1. If you’re going to be making your own mushroom broth, get started with that.  You might even want to do that the night before.  The basic recipe and tips on customizing it for your needs follow below.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425F.
  3. Line a large baking sheet (get that 11×17 one that’s hanging around at the bottom of the drawer below your stove) with parchment paper.  Place the fennel, onions and mushrooms in the lined pan and toss them with 2-3 tbsp of olive oil and some salt and pepper to taste (go easy on the salt).
  4. Roast in the oven for about an hour, tossing two or three times, until there are lots of golden and dark brown bits and the vegetables are soft.
  5. While the veggies are roasting, chop the garlic and tomatoes.
  6. Take a half a cup of the broth and disolve the cornstarch in it, set aside.
  7. Heat a dutch oven with another couple of tablespoons of olive oil at medium-high heat.
  8. Sauté the garlic in the oil a minute or so and then add the tomatoes.  Cook down the tomato until it is reduced quite a bit and starting to stick to the bottom of the pot (this will take a while, be patient).
  9. Deglaze the pot with the sherry wine.  Add the remaining 3-1/2 cups of broth and a 1/2 cup of water along with the roasted vegetables, salt and herbes de provence.
  10. Simmer covered 10 minutes or so or cover and turn off the heat, setting aside until ready to serve (best way if you really want to develop the flavour).
  11. When ready to serve, bring to a low boil and add the reserved broth/cornstarch.  Let it bubble 3-4 minutes until the soup is unctuous.

So now that the recipe is done – on to the interesting part: medicinal mushroom broth!  Fall and spring are particularly good times to be indulging in the almighty mushrooms since, according to Chinese Traditional Medecine (TCM), some are excellent for dispelling dampness – characteristic weather of those seasons.  Others nourish the spirit in TCM, further helping to dispell the ”blues” of all the rainy days.

While mushroom broth can be purchased for culinary use, it’s far more interesting and tasty to make your own.  Then you can pick the types of mushroom best suited to both the recipe and the healing properties desired.

Keep in mind that the type of dose you get from the broth in a bowl of soup isn’t the same as taking a medicinal supplement, but when included regularly in the diet as a tonic, it can help improve and sustain the overall condition of the body.  Choices include:

  • Shiitake (lentinula edodes): antiviral and antitumour action. improves the overall function of the immune systame.  Robust flavour best used in Asian-style dishes.
  • Maitake (grifola frondosa): helps the immune system out, but also acts more generally on the body as a regulator.  Nice flavour for both Eastern and Western dishes.
  • Chaga (inonotus obliquus): used in folk-medicine as an antitumour, an adaptogen and an immune system regulator.  Unremarkable flavour that goes nicely in pretty much all broths.
  • Fu Ling (poria cocos): gets rid of excess dampness, helps digestion and calms the Spirit (shen).  The blandest of mushrooms out there so while it isn’t recommended for use alone in the gourmet world, it can be added to other more tasty choices.
  • Reishi (ganoderma spp.): Spirit (shen) medicine and longevity tonic that also has the immune-potentiating effects of some of the other mushrooms discussed above.  Tough and woody, to get the good stuff out of these, they need to be simmered for a long period of time; powdering them before use can also help.
  • Cordyceps (cordyceps sinensis): reputed to increase stamina and as an old-age tonic (tonifies kidney yang if you want that in TCM-speak), helpful when there is lung weakness (yin deficiency) with signs of chronic cough.  As a larval fungus, these look like worms: don’t say I didn’t warn you. The taste is pretty pleasant, so as long as you strain the eyesores out of the broth, you’re good to go.

Once you’ve chosen the mushrooms you’ll be working with, then you can make the broth. Make it stronger rather than weaker; it’ll only help the soup or stew you’re making with it. A good broth should be medium to dark brown (depending on the mushroom varieties) and pretty opaque.

To finish up, if you want the recipe I used for making the soup above as an inspiration, it looks something like this:

Ingredients:

  • 4-1/2 cups water
  • 4 large maitake mushrooms
  • 2 slices of red reishi mushroom
  • A handful of dried wild mushroom (chanterelle)
  • Half a slice of kombu seaweed (adds trace minerals)

Instructions (for a more strongly medicinal broth):

  1. Place all ingredients in a stainless steel or enamel saucepot and bring to a simmer. Add another 4 cups of water (8-1/2 total). Simmer several hours, until reduced by half. Strain.

Instructions (less medicinal, but quick and easy):

  1. Place all the mushrooms and the seaweed in a stainless steel or glass pot. Bring the water to a boil (electric kettles are good) and pour over the herbs. Cover and let sit several hours. Strain.

In either case, the softer mushrooms strained out of the broth can be chopped and added to other dishes or to the soup itself.

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