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Sasha's Mushroom Soup

Sasha's Mushroom Soup
T. Susan Chang for NPR /

Sasha was my first introduction to that fanatical species, the mushroom hunter. As a child, he hunted for porcini (Boletus edulis) with his family, while vacationing in Lithuania. I went hunting with him a few times on Cape Cod, but never could find a single bolete, despite the bagfuls he inevitably snagged. I'm convinced it's the basil that makes this soup so good. I never would have thought to add it if he hadn't specifically told me to.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Handful dried porcini

1 to 1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms of any sort, chopped, quartered or sliced

1 onion, finely chopped

4 or 5 fresh basil leaves

Pinch of sugar

2 potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch dice

1 or 2 medium carrots, sliced 1/4- inch to 1/2-inch thick

6 to 8 cups chicken stock or water

5 to 6 tablespoons oats or barley


Fresh dill, chopped

Sour cream

In a medium saucepan, add the dried porcini to about a quart of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes and strain over a bowl, reserving the mushroom liquid. Chop the strained and soaked porcini and add them to the other chopped, fresh mushrooms. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed stockpot, saute the onion over low to medium heat until just starting to color. Then add the mushrooms and increase the heat to high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are reduced by half. Tear the basil leaves and add to the mushrooms with a pinch of sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. If using barley, add it now.

Add the porcini liquid to the pot, followed by the chicken stock or water, and the potatoes and carrots. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until the potatoes and carrots are tender. If using oats, add them 15 minutes before the end.

Serve hot, with dill and sour cream on the side.

For a thicker consistency, use 2 tablespoons more oil when sauteing the onions and mushrooms. Then sift 2 to 3 tablespoons of flour over the mushrooms and stir rapidly as you cook them down. Proceed with the rest of the recipe as written.

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