Earthy Mushroom Stew--Savory Vegetarian Comfort Food for a Cold Winter Day
Something wonderful this way comes
Today I found serendipity--or it found me. I was shopping in my local mega-grocery store, and there in the produce section was a large plastic bag of button and cremini mushrooms. Not quite fresh, but not ready for the compost bin. And the produce manager had marked them down to half-price!
So now, my challenge was to create a dinner recipe that would focus on the wonderful taste of mushrooms and not worry quite so much about their appearance. Sure, I could have tossed them into a pot of spaghetti sauce, but I wanted to do something a bit more imaginative.
I had in my files a recipe from Sunset Magazine (October 2006) for "Mushroom Potato Soup with Smoked Paprika". That original recipe called for dried porcinis, pancetta, wine, and chicken stock. A great recipe, but I decided to play with it a bit to turn into a vegetarian meal that my entire family could enjoy. Here's what I did.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter, unsalted
- 1 cup yellow onion, minced
- 5 cups mushrooms, sliced
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cups russet potato, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1 cup wide noodles, (I used No Yolk egg noodles)
- 3 cups mushroom broth, * (see note below)
- Place olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add butter. When butter is melted toss in onion; cook about 5 minutes or until soft and beginning to color slightly. Add sliced mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are browned--about 5 minutes more. Stir in paprika and tomato paste. Cook for about 2 minutes to meld flavors and remove from heat. Set aside.
- Bring 2 quarts water to boil in a large saucepan. Add diced potatoes; cook for 10 minutes and then remove with a skimmer and set aside. In the same saucepan cook the noodles according to package directions. Remove with the skimmer and set aside.
- Reserve 2 cups of cooking liquid from the saucepan and set aside.
- Place the mushroom broth in the saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in the reserved potatoes, noodles, 2 cups reserved cooking liquid, and onion/mushroom mixture. Simmer until heated--about 5 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
- * I used creamy portabello, but you could use vegetable broth, or (if you aren't worried about creating a vegetarian meal) chicken or beef broth.
Why this Recipe Works
Typically when we think of stew we imagine an assortment of vegetables and chunks of protein cloaked in a thickened meaty gravy. What can we do in the kitchen to create the sensory taste of meat and still create a vegetarian meal? The key to the puzzle is understanding the science of taste.
There are five distinct tastes that the human tongue recognizes--sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.
The first four you are probably familiar with:
- sweet is a pleasurable sensation produced by sugars.
- Sourness is the detection of acidity--the most common foods that contain the sour taste are citrus fruits, some melons, and some unripened fruits.
- Saltiness is mostly from the presence of sodium.
- A bitter taste is usually deemed unpleasant or disagreeable. Black coffee and unsweetened chocolate fall into this category.
And then there is umami. Umami is a Japanese word for "pleasant savory taste"--a MEATY taste. There are several natural, non-meat foods that have an umami flavor—tomatoes, mushrooms, soy, potatoes, carrots, and Parmesan cheese.
So, if you create this stew for your family, you will be giving them an uber-umami taste without meat.
© 2011 Linda Lum