Food Challenge #2: Heidi’s Creamless Cream of Mushroom Soup

So the last couple of weeks in Chicago have been cold (which we know makes me very sad).  And I had a cold.  So the last thing I wanted to do was cook or think about cooking, but I also wanted some comfort food, because I felt incredibly sorry for myself.  I’d bought crimini mushrooms before I got sick, but mushrooms and cream and, frankly, the million and seven steps in Julia Child’s version of cream of mushroom soup did not fill me with any type of excitement or joy.  Like the previous challenge, I’ve never actually eaten cream of mushroom soup, aside from a little experiment that I did with chicken pot pie years ago.  The only canned soup we had when I was growing up was chicken noodle, and I’ve never had any desire to order cream of mushroom soup in a restaurant (and now that I think about it, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it listed… Is it not a favorite?).

Given how I felt, plus the fact that I am not a fan of cream based soups, I decided that I was going to make a creamless version of a soup I’ve never actually had a good version of.  Why do I do these kinds of things to myself? Why do I feel as though I actually know what I’m doing in a kitchen?? What is wrong with me??? 

The idea for the creamless soup actually came from a roommate I had senior year of college.  There were four of us living in a townhouse and we would take turns cooking, which really meant we would take turns warming up meals one woman’s mom would freeze for us or making ridiculously large bowls of spaghetti with gobs of butter and salt.  My three roommates were vegetarians, which was fine, but really limited what we could eat since none of us had the time or ability to cook anything tasty (let me be honest: they truly drove me insane, because they would say things like “I’m a vegetarian, is there meat in that?” as you handed them a glass of water.  I knew that it was a passing fancy (especially since somehow going to McDonald’s for happy meals did not register on the vegetarian radar), which made it 20 times more annoying when I had to use separate pans to make chicken.  I know for a fact that two of them now eat meat happily). 

I digress… We ate a lot of beans and pasta and rice and one roommate taught us to make creamless cream of broccoli soup.  We would boil frozen broccoli in some water until it was cooked through and then strain the liquid and add the broccoli to a blender with salt, pepper, nutmeg and a little of the liquid.  Instant creamy soup (with a touch of milk if we were feeling extravagant) and incredibly healthy and easy.  The same thing can be done with pumpkin or butternut squash soup, so I figured why not mushroom?  So I chopped up my mushrooms and sautéed them in some butter with shallots and thyme, added them to some chicken broth and eventually decided to thicken it a bit with a super easy version of béchamel sauce (a white sauce which is the base for a lot of other sauces).

And kids, it was fabulous!  No seriously, I don’t think I’ve been this happy about an experiment in a really long time (if ever).  It was smooth and creamy with nice bits of mushrooms for texture.  The flavor tasted like fall to me, maybe because of the thyme and shallots. The white wine I used to deglaze the pan with the mushrooms and shallots added a bit of richness to it and brought it all together.

The recipe is a bit of Joy of Cooking with a bit of what-do-I-feel-like-doing, so once you get the base, I’m sure it would be easy to change it up with different mushrooms (I’d actually bought shitake mushrooms to sauté and put on top, but I let them sit a bit too long before cooking them and they seemed a bit rubbery.  I’m not a fan of the earthy taste of porcini mushrooms, but I bet they’d work well, too). 

The soup was the perfect comfort food on a cold day when all I wanted was a good book and something warm to make me feel better.  Of course, I hope that when you make it you are healthy and happy, but keep a bit in the freezer just in case…

Update:  Heidi made the soup and contributed this lovely photo…


Creamless Cream of Mushroom Soup

  • ½ lb crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 2 cups poultry stock or water
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Melt butter in skillet over medium high heat and add shallots, stirring until they are translucent.  Add sliced mushrooms and sauté until golden brown and tender.  Add white wine to deglaze pan, stirring up any little bits on bottom of pan
  2. Pour mushrooms, shallots and wine into large stock pot and add broth OR water.  Simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes.
  3. Drain the mushrooms and shallots, reserving liquid.  Add vegetables to blender or food processor and chop for about 10 seconds (you want to have fine bits of mushroom, but still recognizable pieces for texture).  Set aside.
  4. Prepare the béchamel sauce.
  5. Pour the reserved liquid slowly into béchamel sauce, taste for salt and pepper.  Cook and stir until the soup just reaches a boil [You may need to thicken your sauce with a bit of flour if it’s not reaching the consistency you want.  The best way to do this–without getting lumps of flour–is to pour some of the soup into a cup and then whisk flour into it.  Once the flour has dissolved, add that back into your soup and keep stirring.  Be careful about doing this, because soups can thicken really quickly and you’re aiming for creamy, not gluey.]  Add chopped mushrooms and serve immediately.

Béchamel (White Sauce ) (from Joy of Cooking) [side note: Tom Colicchio on Top Chef got really mad at a chef for using this to thicken a soup, but since I figure none of you are entering food competitions with my receipes, it won’t really matter]

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons flour 
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup milk 
  1. Melt butter over low heat; add 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons flour and, stirring constantly, blend for 3-5 mins [I think it’s a good idea to take the pan off of the stove to do this part so the butter doesn’t start to burn.  If it starts to cool off, you can put it bake on the stove for a bit]
  2. Stir in slowly 1 cup milk [I’d start with a 1/2 cup of milk and add more as necessary].  For better consistency can scald the milk before hand [I didn’t do this].  Cook and stir sauce with a wire whisk or wooden spoon until thickened and smooth.
  3. There is some craziness in Joy of Cooking about putting this in the oven at this point, but I didn’t do it and I don’t know if it makes a difference.  If you try it, let me know.

6 Responses to Food Challenge #2: Heidi’s Creamless Cream of Mushroom Soup

  1. H2 says:

    Mmm. Thanks, Heather! I’m heading for the criminis at Stanley’s very soon so I can try it.

  2. H2 says:

    Oh ye of little faith. I have to admit I was skeptical. Skeptical of the possibility that my cream-loving soul could be satisfied with a cream of mushroom soup that relied solely on a bechamel for milkiness.

    But it worked, and worked beautifully. Mushroomy, creamy, and utterly satisfying. Be sure to really cook the sliced mushrooms. Based on a couple of Bittman mushroom recipes I’ve made, I sauteed them for nearly 15 minutes, which brings out their complete depth of flavor.

    Because I’m a snark, I rarely follow a recipe to the letter. However, the only change I made was to add a capful of dry sherry (what, you don’t keep a bottle near your stovetop?) before the final heat. And a palmful of parsley for color before serving.

    We wanted more! Next time we’ll double the recipe.

    I’m sending you a photo and a bouquet of thanks.

  3. pestlemortar says:

    Thanks for the photo!! I’m so happy that it worked for you and that you liked it (it was a risk, the creamless version, but I figure this is a version that could be made at the spur of the moment–assuming you have mushrooms and all). Don’t have sherry, but it seems like something I need to have…

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