This weekend, I headed out to the beach with my friend Sharone to spend some time soaking up summer with her incredible, fun and inquisitive family. Right there, I’d count myself pretty lucky. But I got another bonus–lots of new recipes and kitchen ideas. Both Sharone and her mother are architects, which I think might help explain why they’re so good at building and inventing delicious things from scratch. I have, for example, a new breakfast trick using protein-rich Greek yogurt: Add just a little bit of cinnamon, dark chocolate shavings, honey, and cereal for crunch. But the biggest ah-ha was Pnina’s (pronounced “Nina”) mushroom soup.
I’m a huge fan of really toothsome savory flavors. I think a lot of us cut down on them as summer approaches, connecting them to heartier dishes. But the truth is, umami–as researchers often call the taste–is present in lighter foods, too. Tomatoes, green tea and mushrooms, for instance, are known to give higher fat options like meat and cheeses a good run for their money in this category. And what’s really interesting is that, light or heavy, our bodies tend to react to these kinds of foods as though they’re equally satiating.
In a previous post, I’ve written about how one Johns Hopkins study reported that subjects felt just as full and satisfied having eaten burgers made with ground portobello mushrooms as with ground beef, despite the significant difference in fat and calories. Our hunger signals are responding to a taste cue that’s normally associated with something richer. I find that so incredible.
As I was asking Pnina about how her personal history (she has Polish roots but has lived everywhere) connected to her cooking, this mushroom recipe came up as something she’d been making forever. She stressed how light and healthy it was–especially when she cut back on some of the grains and legumes, as she tended to do in warmer weather. By the end of the conversation, we were all salivating.
And so she made it the next day. I can’t tell you how aromatic it was almost from the moment it started to boil, and how effortlessly it came together. As a meal, it was savory at its best: Totally gratifying without weighing you down. I could get used to that! The recipe, below…
Pnina’s Light and Savory Mushroom Soup
1 head of leeks chopped (use the light green and white part)
2 peeled carrots, diced into bit-size pieces
Sea salt for flavoring
1 pound of baby portobello mushrooms (can also have shiitake mushrooms/or oyster mushrooms/or any mixture of wild mushrooms)
2 ounces extra fancy dried porcini mushrooms (two small packets)
1/4 cup red quinoa
1/4 cup french lentils
1/4 brown or green lentils
1/4 black beluga lentils
1/4 yellow lentils
1 handful of Fregola Sarda (a Sardinian semolina pasta that’s a little like couscous in the way it soaks up flavor. If you can’t find this, feel free to omit or include a little more of one or a few of your favorite legumes or grains on the list.)
64 ounces chicken or vegetable stock (you can buy this at the store, make it from bullion cubes, or cook it up from scratch. If you take that last route, here’s one recipe from Epicurious that looks amazing And this one from the Mayo Clinic is quick, healthy, and easy to adjust.)
1) Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in lukewarm water until soft, about 20 minutes. When done, remove them, and rinse them. Save the liquid you soaked them in for later.
2) In a large soup pot or dutch oven, saute the leeks, carrots, and portobello mushrooms with a little bit of butter, oil, or cooking spray plus some sea salt (for flavor).
3) Pour the chicken or vegetable stock in with mixture. Add all the legumes and grains in the soup pot with the stock and bring to a boil, Then simmer and cover for 20 minutes.
4) Add the soaked dried porcini mushrooms to the stock pot (If some of the porcini mushrooms are very large chop them in half). Also pour in the liquid you soaked them in (make sure that any grainy residue from the soaking process that has settled on the bottom is not added into the pot).
5) Simmer covered for another 25 minutes (or until the grains are al dente and the dried mushrooms become soft and not chewy). If the soup is too thick or grainy, add more liquid.
*Note: If you want a thicker, more hearty recipe, just can add more grains and some barley.