Hungarian Mushroom Soup

by Ginny on February 27, 2011

Post image for Hungarian Mushroom Soup

At the behest of my recent cooking class students, I am posting a recipe that has gone somewhat viral at The Good Food Store, since it debuted in my January class: A Hungarian Sunday Dinner. It seems fitting then, that this recipe comes with a story and a lesson about becoming a better happier cook.

A long, long time ago, in one of the back alleys of downtown Missoula, I walked through the door of The Red Bird restaurant, a dimly lit romantic hideaway, with a menu that was ahead of the farm-to-table curve. It was my senior year of college, and I was in need of some coin. I was hired by the owner at the time, Christine Littig, to open the kitchen in the morning. This included setting up the line, prepping and replenishing anything that was running low, and creating two daily soups from scratch.

My predecessor was a woman named Celeste, who had established a reputation for herself as a Missoula soup wizard, during a long tenure at her former place of employment. Freddy’s Feed & Read was a local landmark, one of the best little bookshops of the good old days, set up in a creaky-floored house in the University District. There, book lovers could find a small but thoughtful inventory of the latest quality literature, and peruse their purchases over a cup of tea or a bowl of Celeste’s soup. Then, Barnes & Noble came to town. Freddy’s quickly began to suffer, and made it public that their demise was a direct result of their new big-box competitor. The year was 1998, and after 26 years in business, Freddy’s Feed & Read closed their doors.

That’s how Celeste ended up at The Red Bird.

Now she was moving North, away from the city, to become an organic egg farmer, as she told me on my first day of work. After showing me around and running through all my morning responsibilities, Celeste began to make her Hungarian Mushroom soup. I watched as she browned mushrooms and onions in butter, pouring in sweet paprika and dill weed with a heavy hand. In went some stock, tamari, a few glugs of milk.  “I like to add sherry to my cream soups,” she advised, pouring a splash from the bottle to the pot.

My head was swimming as I listened, simultaneously reviewing all my new responsibilities in my head. The savory perfume of mushrooms and dill filled the tiny kitchen with it’s umami scent. Celeste finished the soup with a big spoonful of sour cream, stirring until the pot was filled with a creamy red-rust colored soup, flecked with citrusy dill. We dipped in our spoons and tasted. It was heavenly. That’s when Celeste looked me square in the eye, and must have read my expression of newbie angst.

“It’s a lot,” she said gravely. “Some mornings can be really crazy getting everything done and making two soups from scratch.” I nodded with the anticipation of my first solo day.”The best advice I can give you,” she said, “is don’t freak out. Freaking out never helps. Just keep moving, do what you can, and it’ll all get done…or at least mostly done.”

Freaking out never helps.

Those words imprinted themselves on my apprehensive 21 year old brain. I think the reason they resonated with such volume, is because I knew they were true. I had a few kitchens under my belt by that time, all of them high-stress, high-pressure, high-stakes. It’s the nature of restaurant work, especially fine-dining. It was easy to freak out, and people did all the time, even super-experienced head chefs. I recalled a recent time in my mother’s kitchen, when something I made didn’t turn out. So frustrating! All that effort! I was freaking out, and my mother said, “Just calm down. We can fix it. It can almost always be fixed.” More words of truth for a fledgling chef. That’s one of the things I love most about cooking: it can almost always be fixed.

Sometimes, I see in my friends, and now in my students, that occasional look of apprehension around cooking. I still feel it myself, from time to time, when I’m trying something new or trying to pull off more than I should. But repeating those words like a mantra– Don’t freak out. Freaking out never helps. It can almost always be fixed.– is an effective salve for the anxious cook. In the kitchen, as in life, I’ve found that moving past anxiety, frustration, self-doubt, or disappointment makes space for the JOY to come through. And when we enjoy cooking, we cook MORE. And when we cook more, the quality of our life improves.  So don’t freak out. It never helps. And remember, it can almost always be fixed.

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Recipe: Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 12 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms (or button)
  • 1 medium sweet or yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus a few extra sprigs for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups mushroom stock
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (from ½ lemon)
  • ½ cup sour cream

1. In a large sauce pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Sauté until mushrooms have released their liquid and are beginning to brown in spots, 5 to 10 minutes.

2. Reduce heat to medium, or medium-low. Sprinkle in flour and stir to coat mushroom mixture evenly. Add paprika and dill, and cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes. Mixture will be pasty.

3. Stir in Sherry and gradually add milk, stirring vigorously to prevent lumps. Add tamari or soy sauce, 1 teaspoon salt, freshly ground pepper, and mushroom stock. Continue cooking, stirring frequently until bubbling and thickened. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer 15 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

4. Remove from heat and stir in fresh lemon juice. In a small bowl combine sour cream and a bit of the liquid from the soup. Stir to combine, add a bit more liquid, and repeat until the sour cream is thinned to a pourable consistency. This will help prevent curdling. Add diluted sour cream to soup and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with fresh dill sprigs.

Makes 4 bowls or 6 cup-size servings

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda Allen July 30, 2018 at 2:57 pm

I have just recently started making soups, and this is the best yet!


Ginny July 30, 2018 at 3:01 pm

That’s great to hear Amanda! Thanks for the feedback, and happy cooking : )


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