Mushrooms: Prince of the Forest

Delicious homemade cream of mushroom soup doesn't have to be high in sodium.

About a month ago, I went for a hike in the woods. My whole reason for being there had nothing to do with solitude or nature. It was, of course, related to food! I was hunting for chanterelles.

Mushrooms just happen to be one of the last few truly wild foods you can forage. It seems like chanterelles – which are bright gold, shaped like trumpets and sometimes called Prince of the Forest - would be easy to spot, but we walked a long time before finding two or three. Then my “hunter-gatherer” brain turned on, and I was seeing mushrooms everywhere! It was like I had mushroom radar. We picked seven pounds of chanterelles, and I felt like a queen with a treasure.

If you aren’t lucky enough to know where, or how, to pick wild mushrooms, you can buy a lot of exotic types in the local grocery store - even Costco had chanterelles for a while. And of course, the recipes below all work for white or crimini mushrooms as well. So if you can’t find chanterelles or don’t know the difference between those and poisonous mushrooms, save yourself the trouble and buy them at the store.

Mushrooms are a great way to add that umame flavor to foods. Umame is the fifth flavor, after salty, sweet, sour and bitter. Using foods high in umame means you can cook salt-free because your food is getting a boost from that fifth flavor.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

(serves 8-10)

Once you have tasted the real thing, you will never go back to a can again, ever!

2 large onions, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 ½ to 2 pounds of mixed mushrooms, chopped

6 cups chicken or turkey stock (homemade is best, or try the low-sodium HerbOx brand)

2 cups half and half

Sauté onions in butter. Add garlic and mushrooms, cook about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully puree in a food processor or blender in batches. (If you like a chunky soup, just puree half the mixture, leave the rest whole. Add half and half and heat, without boiling. Sprinkle with paprika and serve. This soup freezes wonderfully, so make a big batch, have a great dinner, and stock some away for cold snowy days in the freezer.

Nutrient Info (serving size: 1 cup)

Calories: 174

Carbohydrates: 11 g

Protein: 7 g

Sodium: 135 mg

Low-Salt Mushroom Sauce

This makes a great substitute for soy sauce, adding a wonderful robust umame flavor to foods.

1-2 pounds mushrooms, any kind

4 cups red wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground allspice or Chinese 5 spice

½ tsp mace or nutmeg

¼ tsp ground black pepper

2-4 Tbsp red or white wine

2 Tbsp brandy (optional)

Put mushrooms, spices, vinegar and garlic in large pan. Simmer slowly about 1 hour, stirring once in a while. Strain through cheesecloth. Add wine and brandy. Pour into bottles. Cork and refrigerate. Keeps about 6 months.

Nutrient Info (serving size: 2 tablespoons)

Calories: 8

Carbohydrates: 1 g

Protein: 0 g

Sodium: 2 mg

The information in this column is meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.

[Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. A recipient of the Susan Knapp Excellence in Education Award from the National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition, she has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of her recipes at www.nwkidney.org.]

Editor's Picks