Forest Mushroom Soup Inspired by the Novel 'The Bear and the Nightingale'

Forest Mushroom Soup Inspired by the Novel 'The Bear and the Nightingale'

Wednesday, 8 December, 2021

Food and drinks are some of the easiest ways — and the most fun— to vicariously experience another culture. When you add a great book to the mix, you've got the makings of a perfect evening. In Food+Fiction, we recommend a delicious read and a related recipe so you can try the taste of different destinations in your own kitchen.

This post is part of our Food+Fiction series.

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The Winternight trilogy by Katerine Arden is an enchanting blend of historical fiction and fantasy that begins with The Bear and the Nightingale in a medieval village in the deep, dark forest of Russia.

Our heroine Vasilisa ‘Vasya’ Petrovna has a gift that allows her to see the fantastical creatures that inhabit the village. Which leads, as you might expect, to all kinds of supernatural throwdowns and, unexpectedly, with members of the Orthodox Church who believe her to be a witch.

We can only assume that Vasya fortifies herself from time to time with hearty soup made from earthy mushrooms she forages in the forest. Perhaps she gets a little help from a kitchen witch when she’s not facing down the river king, her (maybe) evil stepmother, vampires, ghosts, and other supernatural creatures.

This soup is very easy to make and is just the thing to comfort you on a chilly evening. It’s rich, garlicky, and tastes like magic. Here in the Czech Republic, we can buy a blend of dried forest mushrooms from Russia (směs lesních hub sušená) — you can use a combo of whatever dried mushrooms you prefer for your elixir.

mushroom soup in a bowl on a wooden table
Photo courtesy of Anna Shepulova/Shutterstock.

Forest Mushroom Soup

Makes about 3 cups. Total time 45 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 to 2 ounces dried mushrooms (cremini, morel, whatever you like)
  • 2 tablepsoons ghee or butter
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme or rosemary
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms (shiitake, button; a variety is nice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons sherry or Madeira
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • garnish: sour cream or Greek yogurt, chopped fresh parsley leaves

Directions:

Soak the dried mushrooms. Place the dried mushrooms in a large bowl with 3 cups of very hot water until they’re soft; this takes 5 to 15 minutes. When they’re tender, remove them from the soaking liquid with a slotted spoon and chop up the large pieces. Meanwhile…

Cook the fresh mushrooms. Place the ghee in a soup pot over medium heat. When it’s melted, add the herb, onion, and garlic; sauté until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, and add the fresh mushrooms and the soaked mushrooms if they’re ready. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper, then cook until the mushrooms give off their liquid and begin to brown. This takes about 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally and admire the magic of mushrooms getting weirdly soupy and then gloriously brown. (If you want it to look fancy when you serve it, reserve a few of the browned mushrooms to place on the surface of the finished soup.)

Simmer. Add the sherry or Madeira to the pot and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom, then add the broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, until flavors have melded, about 15 minutes.

Big finish. Reduce the heat to low, and purée the liquid with a hand-held mixer to desired consistency. Taste it and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. Top with a dollop of sour dream or yogurt and minced parsley, swirl the cream into the soup, and dig in.

 

There was a time, not long ago

When flowers grew all year

When days were long

And nights star-strewn

And men lived free from fear — Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale

by Katherine Arden

The opening of this novel is very promising for those of us who love fairy tales and folklore: an old woman sits in a kitchen in the wildwoods of Russia, telling children the story of Morozko, the Winter King. The forest of this Russian-influenced fairy tale is vast and dark and deep. It gives and takes away. People get lost there and are never seen again. And at the edge of the forest, a daughter is born to a maybe-witch. {more}

This dark fantasy (336 pages) was published in January of 2017 by Del Rey. The book takes you to a Russian forest. David read The Bear and the Nightingale and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel

 

Top image courtesy of Syda Productions/Shutterstock.

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