How long have Jewish people been eating mushrooms? A long time! Mushrooms were mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud (Nedarim 55B) and wild mushrooms were in such abundance in ancient Israel during the rainy season that discussions arose about putting a tax on them. Mushrooms weren’t actively grown on farms until the beginning of the 1600’s and it became an important ingredient in Jewish cooking throughout the world. Mushrooms were especially important to poor Ashkenazic Jews. They were easily found in the forests and their flavor, especially when dried, was a boost to a relatively bland diet since spices were expensive.
One favorite dish of the Ashkenazim that survived the move from the shtetl to America was the hearty mushroom-potato-barley soup called Krupnick. In Europe Krupnick was mostly starchy potatoes seasoned with a little meat and mushroom. Today, rich flanken meat is added in large strips and mushrooms become the major flavoring ingredient. Potatoes are often replaced by lima beans as well.
Moving with the times, I have taken the delicious beef based mushroom barley soup from my first book and created a vegetarian version that is just as rich and delicious, and probably more like the original Krupnick!
The secret to the thickness of this soup is the lima beans. They are peeled and therefore disintegrate into the stock when fully cooked. Do not panic, they peel very easily when properly soaked and children love to pop them out of their skins.
Vegetarian Mushroom Barley Soup-Krupnick
1 ¼ cups dried large lima beans
1 ounce dried imported mushrooms, preferably porcini- ¾ cup loosely packed
2 quarts water or packaged vegetable or mushroom broth
1 mushroom bouillon cube, optional
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
8 ounces mushrooms, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 carrot diced
1/2 cup medium pearl barley
- Cover the lima beans in a 2 quart glass bowl with 1” of water. Microwave on high for 3 minutes and then let them soak for 1 or more hours or until the skins easily slide off.
- Cover dried mushrooms in a 1 quart bowl glass bowl with water. Microwave for 2 minutes and let them sit in the water while you peel the lima beans.
- Meanwhile, remove the skins from the lima beans by gently squeezing on one end; the bean will just slide out. Place beans in a 4 quart pot.
- Carefully lift the mushrooms out of the water and gently squeeze them over the bowl. Save the juices. Chop the soaked mushrooms and set aside.
- Add the water or broth and the chopped, soaked mushrooms to the lima beans in the pot. Strain the mushroom liquid into the pot as well.
- Heat a 10” frying pan for 20 seconds. Add the oil and heat for 10 seconds. Add the diced onion and sauté for 2 minutes.
- Add the celery and fresh mushrooms and cook until wilted and translucent. Add this mixture to the soup pot along with the diced carrot, salt and pepper to taste.
- Cook, covered, over medium heat for 1 hour stirring occasionally so that the beans do not stick.
- Add the barley and cook for 1/2 to 1 hour longer or until the barley is tender and the lima beans disappear. Check the seasoning. Add more broth if soup is too thick (it will thicken even more when cool).
- If you own a pressure cooker, lima beans can be cooked for 15 minutes on low setting and then they will be ready to peel.
- Do not make the mistake of buying small lima beans. It will take you forever to peel them!
- Olive oil mimics the taste of traditional goose fat and sautéing the vegetables adds depth to the flavor of this soup.