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Earthy Mushroom Stew: A Rich and Savory Vegetarian Meal

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Earthy mushroom stew

Earthy mushroom stew

Mushrooms at the Market

Serendipity: [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee]

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 white 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.

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

15 min

30 min

45 min

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 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)

Instructions

  1. Place the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter. When the butter is melted, toss in the onion; cook about 5 minutes or until soft and beginning to color slightly. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms are browned—about 5 minutes more. Stir in paprika and tomato paste. Cook for about 2 minutes to meld flavors and then remove from heat. Set aside.
  2. Bring 2 quarts water to boil in a large saucepan. Add the 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.
  3. Reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid from the saucepan and set aside.
  4. Place the mushroom broth in the saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in the reserved potatoes, the noodles, 2 cups of the reserved cooking liquid, and onion/mushroom mixture. Simmer until heated through—about 5 minutes. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.
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Note: I used creamy portabello broth, 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

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