Tonight’s version of Hungarian Mushroom soup included crimini, oyster, and shiitake mushrooms. Plus a LOT of sour cream.

I hadn’t lived in Portland long before my friends Joel and Jim flew in for a visit. They announced–two minutes after arrival–that “We’re taking you for Hungarian Mushroom Soup.”

That was my introduction to an incredible soup at a place called Old Wives Tales. It offered a huge range of vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, you-name-it-free menu options. Frankly, most of them weren’t worth eating, so it was hardly a place you’d visit twice…unless you’d ordered the Hungarian Mushroom Soup.

Their mushroom soup was incredibly rich, creamy, redolent of forest mushrooms, tangy with a slight bite at the finish. The first spoonful, chunky with fresh sauteed mushrooms, made you close your eyes and smile. Usually, a small cup was all you could handle; I tried ordering an entire bowl once and gave up on finishing it–the soup was simply too rich.

“That’s not soup. That’s gravy,” my mom said, the first time she tried it.

A few years ago, the owners retired and sold out to a developer or something. I’ve been casting around for the recipe ever since and found it on the Food Network website. Unfortunately, it was the RESTAURANT recipe, direct from OWT. It called for five gallons of liquid, three pounds of butter, nearly 2 gallons of sour cream, 10 pounds of mushrooms…and probably a bathtub and an oar to hold it.

So…I’m experimenting to get it right for home cooks. On my first pass today, I cut the recipe quantities way way down, made a few adjustments–it really was a little thick at OWT–and served it to The Resident Carpenter. He loved it (so did I), but it’s not quite there yet, and I could use some advice:

I think the combination of tamari, oyster mushrooms, and a bit of smoked paprika I added at the last minute give the soup a slightly odd smell. As I play around with it–and I welcome any suggestions–I’ll update the receipt here.

Old Wives Tales’ Hungarian Mushroom Soup (sorta)


  • 2.5 lbs fresh mushrooms. Tonight I used about 2 lbs of crimini, with shitake, oyster, and our hand-picked-and-dried chanterelles making up the balance.
  • 1.5 cups finely chopped yellow onions
  • 3 sticks (3/4 lb.) fresh butter
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill (use less if all you have is dried)
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon porcini powder (this is optional)
  • 1/2 cup tamari
  • 2 quarts water or fresh chicken stock, or any combination of the two
  • 1 quart milk
  • 7 cups sour cream (3.5 pints)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2/3 teaspoon pepper
  • Salt to taste

This was normally made without any chicken stock, so that it was a vegetarian soup. I’d just made a couple quarts of fresh chicken stock, however, so I was anxious to use it. It does seem to enrich the soup.


Big bowl, colander, cutting boards, and two pretty large pots (not kidding–you’ll need something that holds at least two gallons)


  1. Wash and trim the mushrooms, and then slice them into about 1/4 inch pieces and stick them in the bowl. Chop the onions into a fine dice.
  2. Take the smaller of your two pots, and melt 2/3 stick butter into the bottom, on medium heat. Add the onions, and sweat until wilted.
  3. When the onions turn translucent, toss in the mushrooms. They’ll probably fill up the pot, but they cook down quite a bit. Just keep stirring to make sure nothing burns. Rinse out your bowl.
  4. Cooking down the mushrooms. When I started, they completely filled the pot.

    Once the mushrooms have released their liquid and are about half the original volume, add the dill, paprika, basil, porcini powder and time. Stir well to mix.

  5. Add the tamari and water/chicken stock, stirring really well, and bring it to a boil for about five minutes. Turn down the heat to low, and let it simmer.
  6. In the OTHER pot, the bigger one, melt the rest of the butter over medium heat. When it starts to bubble, add the flour and beat until it’s a smooth paste. Keep stirring and cooking it for about 5 minutes or so (don’t let it burn). You’re making a roux, and it should just barely start to color up when it’s done.
  7. Dip out about a cup of liquid from the cooking mushrooms and beat into the roux. If it’s still lumpy-stiffish, add some water until it’s a thick batter.
  8. Working slowly, add the rest of the mushroom mixture into the roux, stirring rapidly until it’s all mixed in. Add the pepper.
  9. Simmer, stirring every minute or so, until the soup starts to thicken (it’ll coat the back of a clean spoon).
  10. Dump the sour cream into your rinsed-out mushroom bowl, and stir a bit. Add in about a cup of the soup liquid, stirring again to mix, and then scrape it all into your soup pot and stir well until blended.
  11. Correct your seasonings, especially the salt, to taste, and serve.

It really is delicious, which is good, because even this cut-down recipe makes a BOATload of soup. But if you have ideas for making it smell as good as it tastes, I’m all eyes (and ears). Thanks.