By El Lower, Michigan Sea Grant GLANSIS Research Associate
This wild rice and wild mushroom soup is a hearty vegetarian meal that showcases the flavors of two remarkable Great Lakes ingredients. To make this soup vegan, substitute the dairy with your favorite plant-based milk: walnut or cashew cream would be especially nice with this flavor combination. This recipe includes fennel seeds, which add a slightly sweet anise flavor to the broth that goes really well with mushrooms, but feel free to omit if you can’t stand anything licorice-adjacent.
Wild rice is a culinary and cultural treasure of the Great Lakes. This native grass species (Zizania palustris) is a culturally important food for Native American and First Nations peoples in the Great Lakes region, where it is known as manoomin. This plant grows in nearshore coastal wetlands that are threatened by habitat loss, historically high water levels, coastal development and environmental contamination. In recent years, the Great Lakes Sea Grant Program has partnered with Lake Superior tribal authorities and NOAA to support wild rice restoration through a number of ongoing projects such as documenting rice camp through photography, and designing educational panels to educate about wild rice.
Cooking with authentic Great Lakes-grown wild rice is a great way to enjoy the results of these restoration efforts and learn more about how this plant is used: Red Lake Nation Foods and Native Harvest Ojibwe Products are two Native-owned businesses with an extensive selection of wild rice products. Wild rice is delicious in pilafs, stuffings, and salads, and makes an excellent substitute for Asian rice in soups and stews. Adding it to this creamy mushroom-and-vegetable soup makes for a much-needed antidote to lake effect snow this time of year!
This soup also features another wild treat: hen-of-the-woods mushroom (Grifola frondosa), also known as maitake. This species grows wild in the northeastern United States, and can be found in sizable quantities at the base of old oak trees — or the farmer’s market, if you’re not a forager with mycology experience and want to be sure you’ve collected a species that’s safe to eat. (MSU Extension has some very helpful resources on mushroom identification, including safety precautions for trying new culinary mushrooms for the first time and how to identify and avoid poisonous species: critical reading if you plan to cook with any wild edible you’ve gathered yourself!) If fresh wild mushrooms are unavailable, you can use a dried wild mushroom blend from the grocery store along with some fresh sliced button mushrooms as a worthwhile substitute.
Wild rice and wild mushroom soup
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup uncooked wild rice
- 12 oz maitake mushrooms, a wild mushroom mix, or button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 small onion, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 medium carrots, diced
- 4 T olive oil or butter
- 1 bunch kale or spinach, roughly chopped
- 1 ½ cups milk (or plant-based substitute)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp sage
- Soy sauce
- Apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
- Red pepper flakes, black pepper, and salt, to taste
- Heat olive oil or butter to medium-high in a large soup pot, then add diced onions and minced garlic. Cook for 3-5 minutes until onion is softened and beginning to become translucent, then add mushrooms.
- Cook for another 5-7 minutes, letting mushrooms brown, and then deglaze the pan with a few dashes of soy sauce and a good-sized splash of apple cider vinegar. [Note: “deglazing” refers to the technique of using a little liquid and vigorous scraping to resuspend the tasty, caramelized bits and drippings at the bottom of the pan, incorporating them back into the dish.]
- Add diced carrots, wild rice, herbs and spices, and a few dashes of salt, and saute for another few minutes before adding vegetable stock. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 45 minutes, until the rice is fully cooked. (Wild rice cooked in broth will split and curl along the grain when done, and will be tender but still have a little chew to it.)
- Reduce heat to low, then add milk and chopped kale or spinach at the end of the cooking time, simmering just until the greens are fully wilted (longer for kale, almost instantly for spinach.) Adjust seasoning to taste with salt, black pepper, red pepper, and a little more soy and apple cider vinegar if needed. Divide soup among bowls, top with a little additional thyme if you’re feeling fancy, and enjoy!