Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Everything you never cared to know about mushrooms…

Today I would like to talk mushrooms… Yes, mushrooms… Not pumpkins… I know… But honestly, fall is all about mushrooms. In the wild at least. Cause that’s when they naturally grow. (Them, and lots of other wild eatible things, like berries and fruits, but in the modern super-marketed world we can be forgiven for completely forgetting about that.)

By now you’ve probably noticed that I cook quite a lot of mushrooms. It’s not a fluke. It’s a Russian thing… Did I ever tell you that Russians love mushrooms? They do. Every fall they leave their cozy cities and head out into the forest for mushroom gathering… And that’s not to mention canned/pickled/dried year-long varieties (lovingly preserved at home… and shame on me – I have never learned how to do that).

Why the national obsession? I think it really stems from history (and geography, of course). You see, pre-Soviet Russia was a pretty religious country. Russian Orthodox church dominated many spheres of life. And the uniqueness of this church was (and still is, but certainly not as dominant in the mainstream population) its dietary regulations. Whereas some other religions forbid certain foods altogether (pork, beef, etc…), Russian church did not forbid anything in general, but had certain times a year when certain things were forbidden. Essentially, it came down to over half a year of not been allowed to eat meat/chicken. The strictness of the regulations varied: sometimes you could eat fish, sometimes you essentially had to be vegan. Sometimes even stricter. Couldn’t even use vegetable oil in cooking. But I digress… Let’s get back to mushrooms…

So, in view of the no meat/chicken/and-often-fish allowed, and in the absence of tofu, people relied on mushrooms for sustenance. Not to mention that plenty of mushrooms in the nearby forest = lots of free food, and I’m pretty sure people have been budget conscious since the day they were invented (people, that is). And mushrooms are pretty yummy too… let’s not forget about that.

Which reminds me, that basically, contrary to popular belief, there are loads of Russian vegetarian recipes. Developed over centuries of country-wide half a year long vegetarianism. My favorite Russian cookbook was originally written in mid 19th century. It has a huge section on veggie soups, stews, pirogies, etc… And naturally, lots of mushrooms too.

So for our dinner today, we had… suspense… suspense… you’ll never guess… sautéed MUSHROOMS! Ha! Wasn’t that a nice lead-in? (And the recipe was, by the way, adapted from the aforementioned book...)

A wonderful mix of fresh Portobellos with fried onions, greens and sour-cream… (Fry a chopped medium sized onion in melted butter (a table spoon), add chopped Portobellos (I used 5 caps from baby ones), fry for a bit (till mushrooms get a nice brownish crust) add a couple of tablespoons (or one really big one) of flour, mix well for about a minute, add a cup of stock or water, chopped dill and parsley (to taste, I probably used a fist of each), salt, pepper, cover and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. Then add a cup of sour cream and bring to boil. Turn it all off. You’re done. Serve with fresh herbs of your choice. Parsley and dill seem like the natural choice to me. But then again – they always do… Hubs preffers spring onions.)

And as a side dish I roasted some veggies. Whatever I found in the fridge/pantry. Today it happened to be a zucchini, a sweet potato, about three or four regular potatoes, a red bell pepper, an onion and four cloves of garlic. Salt, pepper, and mix with a bit of oil of your choice. Optionally add a teaspoon of dry parsley or oregano. Even finely chopped fresh parsley would do. But not necessary.

Bon appetit!

PS: I now have an official proof that I need to get out of the house more. I spent the whole day thinking that today was Monday. Which is why I only made a vegetarian dinner. Luckily I had some chicken leftover from yesterday, so hubs didn’t have to suffer through an extra-vegetarian-day-meat-withdrawal convulsions… But he loved the mushrooms anyways…

PPS: Elvis is in the building:

(Yes, that is my finger in the corner... I still have to work on my picture taking skills...)

Posted by vasilisa @ 11:38 p.m.

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Fascinating history of mushrooms. I happen to love mushrooms, I could eat them in almost everything. One of my favorites is to make mushroom lasagne with lots of mozarella and olives.

I like little Elvis.

Posted by Blogger Alexys Fairfield @ 2:50 a.m. #

That was interesting information about the Russian Orthodox church; I had no idea about all the dietary restrictions.

I know this sounds insane coming from a vegetarian, but I don't like mushrooms. I know, right? I'm crazy. Certifiable.

I think it just has to do with the texture. I do actually cook with cream of mushroom soup quite a bit, and that doesn't bother me. But other than that, I don't eat them much. It's a shame, because there are so many portobello entrees at restaurants!

I'll have to work on broadening my horizons...

Posted by Blogger Kelley @ 8:56 a.m. #

Elvis is rocking!!:))
And your food is getting better and better!! Good for you!! Great info abt mushrooms!!

Posted by Blogger Foodie's Hope @ 5:02 p.m. #

Alexys: Mushroom lasagne... sounds divine! I should definitely try that! I actually usually make my spaghetti sauce with mushrooms and eat it with lots of cheese. And the horrible confession is that even though I love lasagne… I’ve never made it L . Those wide noodles scare me into inaction… I should certainly set that as a goal for the near future.

Kelley: life without mushrooms is tough for a vegetarian! Unless you absolutely love tofu... I'm kind of getting sick of tofu, which why I'm dreaming mushrooms... By the way, if you use mushrooms in soup stock, you can actually take them out -- you'll have the flavour, but not the texture. I prefer to pre-fry first, and many people use dry mushrooms in stocks... Besides, it's a shame there are only about two or three varieties of mushrooms to choose from. In Russia you can probably choose from more than ten - you'd definitely find something you like... But then again, this is not a mushroomy continent (and that's a bit depressing... cause 99% of the time Portobello is your only choice… Not that it’s bad – but makes it kind of hard to be choosy.)

Foodie (Asha): Thanks! I'm really trying... I think if it wasn't for the blog, I'd be cooking ten times less. Sometimes I force myself to make at least something, just so I don't have to post another Burger King photo...

Posted by Blogger vasilisa @ 2:03 a.m. #

First of all, your son is absolutely adorable!

Great information on mushrooms. I love them, but my husband? He doesn't like them so much. The only way I can get him to eat them is when I slip into Veggie Shepherd's Pie.

Posted by Anonymous Leslie @ 1:19 p.m. #

Leslie: thanks for dropping by! Isn't it annoying when our husbands have such different preferences? Mine hates buckwheat. And I like it. Guess what never makes our menu...

Posted by Blogger vasilisa @ 8:15 p.m. #
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I'm a 29 year old mom of two! A toddler (kiddo one) and a new baby (kiddo junior). I am also the most horrible (as in I barely ever do it) cook that I have met in my life. This blog is a diary of my attempts to feed my hungry growing family

PS: My name is not actually Vasilisa... But I find that honest reporting comes easier when there is a shred of anonymity. (Apparently, posting pics of my sons doesn't count...)

PPS: For those of you wondering where on the planet I am: I'm cosily tacked away in the Torontonian suburbia of the Great White North (Canada).

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