February 21, 2010 § 6 Comments
I briefly posted about this timeless classic before, but I don’t think I was getting through to you guys. So let me try again.
Mushrooms, sauteed in butter with caramelized onions, shallots and garlic, and drowned in sour cream and lemon juice, are among the most amazing foods I’ve ever tasted. The deeply-flavorful combination of sweet-yet-pungent alliums, woody, earthy mushrooms, and tangy sour cream and lemon is an experience that is… profoundly sensual to say the least. The pleasure I derive from having them is so intense, it makes me want to cry out in ecstasy. Or weep. Or otherwise express my deep satisfaction.
You’ve got to put my mushroom obsession in perspective though. When I was growing up, mushrooms were a rarity and in fact I don’t think I ever tasted one until I was visiting Latvia at the age of eleven, just around the time of the Putsch of August 1991 that have effectively put an end to the Soviet Union as we knew it (and a good riddance it was). Although food choices back home were absolutely incredible in their variety (think Turkish bazaar), mushrooms were not one of the things that commonly grew where I was, perhaps because of the uncompromisingly waterless desert climate, and I don’t ever remember encountering them at otherwise abundant farmer’s markets in the city. It is perhaps that flare of exoticism that fueled the life-long obsession. That and the Russian literature, that constituted the majority of my reading material when I was growing up.
(To ease your certain confusion, let me quickly walk you through my cultural background again: I grew up in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was once a Russian colony. Then it was a Soviet Republic.
The two languages of Azerbaijan are Azerbaijani (a close relative of Turkish that shares a lot of the vocabulary with Russian, Arabic, and Farsi), and Russian.
Over half of all the schools used Russian as the language of instruction, which is what I went to school in. So my first language is Russian.
But ethnically, I am neither Russian nor Azeri. I am Jewish. My mother grew up speaking Yiddish. My Jewish family moved to Azerbaijan from Poland and Ukraine and haven’t been there for more than three generations.
None of my family is back in Azerbaijan anymore.
I went to the American University in Bulgaria for my four years of college after I won a full scholarship there. As a result of my studies and travels, I speak six languages. Or I did once.
I met my husband at the said university in Bulgaria, where he headed after two years at the Deep Springs College. He was once a cowboy who made his own chaps.
My husband is a native of the Driftless Area of Wisconsin. That’s why I live in Wisconsin now.
Driftless Wisconsin, at least in my mind, is the undisputed heaven on earth – the land of milk and maple syrup. For that reason, I am among the luckiest people you’ll ever meet.)
Not sure why you needed that lyrical digression, but there it is. Now back to the mushrooms. And the Russians.
It is no secret to the readers of the Russian classics that the Russian soul is as deeply espoused to wild mushrooms as it is to caviar and religious mysticism – mushrooms-in-sour-cream motif is definitely something you come across over and over again. It wasn’t until moving to Wisconsin at the age of 23, however, that I finally had access to a variety of wild and cultivated mushrooms, and I plunged right in with the aid of this marvelous cookbook with a ridiculous title and pseudo-Chagall cover art.
Mushrooms in sour cream are amazing not only because they are heart-wrenchingly delicious, but also because they are a breeze to make and are versatile in their use. You can use them as a hearty topping for steak. Or hamburgers. Or instead of duxelles in beef Wellington. Or directly on toast for a simple lunch or even a light supper. Or as pasta sauce. Or eat them with a fork, though they are a bit too rich for that even for me.
When it comes to choosing mushrooms for this dish, I try to stay away from the placid white button ones. I go for a mixture of darker colored, more flavorful guys. Seasonal morels are obviously a wonderful, free, and rare treat, but when faced with a food cooperative aisle, and not wanting to purchase the expensive shitakes, I usually buy a combination of a 1-2 large portabellos and a handful of crimini mushrooms.
In choosing the alliums, I would say go with 1 onion (cippolini would be great), 1 shallot, and a clove of garlic or two.
Now let the magic begin:
Slice all the onion/garlic stuffs and saute them in a large amount of butter until they have caramelized and begun to brown. I would use 1/4 stick of butter for a combo of 1 onion, 1 shallot, and 1 garlic clove. (Unfortunately, I haven’t snapped a picture of this stage).
Add the sliced mushrooms to the caramelized onions (you might have to add more butter at this point), and cook over low medium to low heat until all the liquid has evaporated (if any), and the mushrooms have softened and began to brown. In this picture, I have 2 large potabello mushrooms and about 2 cups of criminis.
Dump in a generous dollop of sour cream and turn off the heat.
Stir in the sour cream, and add salt, black pepper, and a dash of lemon juice.
Here’s what they look like if a picture is taken with a flash.
Here’s what they look like if a picture is taken without a flash. I couldn’t decide which one did this wonderful dish more justice, so I decided to post both. Still trying to figure out that photography thing.
Serve in any of the suggested ways, or some other creative ways you might have come up with. Then come back and tell me.