In Pursuit of Paprika (Hungarian wild mushroom soup)
This September I said goodbye to Amanda and our friends for a couple weeks, leapt across the pond and trekked through the great continent with the sole mission of acquiring myself some authentic Hungarian paprika to smuggle back home. Nothing could get in the way of me and that ingredient key to so many Magyar dishes. Like the goulashes I can’t even eat based on that whole meat avoidance thing. Okay, so the plan was a little flawed but don’t say I never learned to live by the Girl Scout motto ‘be prepared.’ Maybe someday I’ll abandon this 13 year vegetarian phase and really, really need to make a myself a heaping portion of goulash STAT.
Truthfully, I didn’t really make my way to Europe solely for an ingredient. (There goes my foodie street cred. Kitchen cred?) I actually had a meeting to attend in Switzerland and used the opportunity to visit Budapest and soak in its intriguing culture and turbulent history. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time abroad, but it remains mind-boggling to visit a country with a memorial moratorium on beer glass clinking that’s lasted almost as long as my country’s entire history.
I could go on for days about my experiences in the little city that could – from staving off jetlag amid the music and sparkle of the opera to strengthening new friendships during a miles-long, late-night jaunt after a subway snafu. For now, though, I’ll get back to the food. The one place in town where the tourists and locals really seem to come together is the Great Market Hall (Nagy Vásárcsarnok). Upstairs is strictly tourist kitsch and the basement houses a small grocery store and dozens of fish stalls, but the ground floor offers the melting pot of those traveling through and living in Pest. Next to the old grandma filling up her cart with fresh vegetables or the butcher’s frankly unappetizing array of kidneys, livers and ears, you’ll find tourists trying the local fried bread speciality (langos) or me picking up some paprika to take home.
Fast forward a few weeks and I’ve survived the meeting and returned home with new knowledge and a bagful of paprika. I started thinking of dishes that highlight paprika, and the only vegetarian dish that came to mind was deviled eggs. I think going from despising the eggs speckled with that foreign red substance to deeming them edible was one of my first pre-teen baby steps towards falling in love with food. Certainly the step came out of desperation, but it was a step nonetheless. But the dish I had in mind was an ode to paprika, a Hungarian spotlight on the spice; not a harkening back to my 12 year-old food forays.
Luckily I ran across this mushroom soup and it didn’t take long to convince Amanda to work with mushrooms, since her mushroom obsession has rivaled my love of pumpkins this fall. I’m actually surprised we haven’t yet found a mushroom pumpkin dish to tackle. With the onslaught of cold weather up here, we also both loved the idea of a hearty soup. And boy did it deliver. I was so excited by the deep aromas this dish created that I actually started talking to the mushrooms as they bathed in stock with the onions and leeks. Amanda decided we’d reached a new level of our friendship when she walked back into the kitchen and caught me softly (or perhaps, creepily) whispering “you’re going to be delicious” into the pot.
While Amanda may not have been quite as audibly moved by the dish, we both agreed it was a hit. The creamy paprika base flavored with the juice of the mushrooms plus a hint (and only a hint!) of dill was everything we were hoping for from this recipe. I think the mushrooms may have received top billing over the paprika, but as a fellow fungophile, I was okay with that.
Hungarian Wild Mushroom Soup
Adapted lightly (mostly with my disdain for overpowering dill) from Edible Portland, serves 6
2 tbsp butter
1 overflowing cup chopped onion
1/2 overflowing cup chopped leek
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs cleaned, roughly sliced wild mushrooms (we used baby bella, oyster and dried porcini)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp paprika (sweet paprika if you’re using Hungarian)
1 1/2 tbsp fresh dill weed, chopped (plus extra for garnish)
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp flour
2 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock, if you must)
1 cup milk
Black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
Wash leeks and mushrooms well to remove any possibility of your delicious soup being marred by graininess. If using dried mushrooms, we found it best to rehydrate them in some of the stock itself on low heat for 5 minutes. Your mushrooms will then pick up more flavor and if you have leftover stock, it will also be more flavorful. We don’t waste ingredients and we certainly don’t waste flavor.
Melt butter over medium heat in a large stockpot. Add the onion, leek and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes or until onions are cooked. Add mushrooms, salt, your beloved paprika and its cute but sometimes obnoxious younger cousin, dill. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes and then an additional 5-7 minutes uncovered.
Add lemon juice and flour and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir often. Feel free to talk to the soup while stirring.
Add stock, cover and cook for another 10 minutes. Again, stir often. Add milk and black pepper and turn heat to low – now that we’re adding dairy we don’t want the soup to boil from this point forward. Whisk in sour cream bit by bit. Salt to taste and enjoy immediately. Garnish with dill (or some fresh parsley if you have some on hand).
In the future I’d also add in some sharp paprika at the end and maybe saute some larger chunks of mushrooms in butter for additional garnish.
I can’t comment on anything longer than three days storage, because it certainly didn’t last that long. I can say that if you want to make the soup last a while, don’t bring in two servings for lunch thinking that you’ll have the will-power to save one for the next day. You won’t.