Mushroom Bulgar Soup with Leeks and Fennel

mushroom bulgar soup

This delicious soup was influenced by what was lying around (of course), this great primer on bulgar, and my recent reading of Mark Bittman's Food Matters. Permit me a small soapbox for each one.

1) What lies around. In the last week, I purchased several bits of produce for which I had no specific use. At the end of the week, I had a large fennel bulb and pound of mushrooms from Pike Place Market, and two tight, beautiful leeks from the Columbia City Farmer's Market. They were taking up space in my fridge, which is a problem around here. The only other fridge I've seen that even remotely resembles mine is my Mom's. Stuffed to the gills, everywhere tupperware I own in use all the time. So I'm always motivated to clear more space in there, and cooking things down is the surest way. But my soapbox-worthy point here is this: Buying small amounts of produce  you have no plan for helps make you a more creative cook. There might be a recipe for a soup like this out in the universe--I haven't Googled it. But the fun for me is in seeing what's possible. And I can't do that if everything in my fridge is allotted for a specific meal. I realize everyone can't cook like this--it might be beyond stressful for you to improvise. But 1) I made this on a Sunday afternoon when I had some time and 2) The more you cook, the better you'll get at making things up.

2) Bulgar. I have loved and used bulgar for a long time, but it fell off my radar for awhile. It's back in favor, big time. For fine bulgar, all it needs is moistening, and it's ready for salads. To make a delicious side dish as a substitute for rice, saute 1 c. coarse bulgar in a bit of olive oil in a saucepan. Add 1 1/2 c. water, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover for 10-15 minutes, until the grain has absorbed all the water and is soft. Wrap a towel around the saucepan lid, put it back on the pot, and let the bulgar steam for 10 minutes. Take the lid off, fluff with a fork, and add some coarse salt and whatever else you want. So much quicker than brown rice (and more delicious, I think).

3) Food Matters. I'm really quite hopeless at giving systematic reviews of things like restaurants or books. What I can do is tell you about my experience of them. Mark Bittman's book didn't open up any new territory to me, per se, but it was a great shot-in-the-arm. It reminded me how much better I feel when I fill up on vegetables. And here's something to think about: our bodies hardly know the difference between white flour and sugar! So more whole grains in this house, even less meat, less eggs and dairy. MB would never villainize those things, but he follows a "flexitarian" diet, which is plants and whole grains for breakfast and lunch, then pretty much whatever he wants for dinner. That's similar to the way I eat, but the last few months have seen me slipping quite a bit. And I've felt worse because of it. Didn't I warn you that I'd be dragging you along with all my resolutions?

Alright. Down from the soapbox. This soup is quick, filling, and good for these bodies of ours that could use some kindness. Sub onions for the leeks or leave out the fennel. Add some finely chopped greens, like kale, chard, or spinach. Or experiment with whatever it is in your fridge that's calling out to you. Do it!

P.S. I often get questions like, "Do your kids eat this kind of stuff?!" I've talked about that here. They both ate all their soup last night. They didn't love it, but they suffered through. Good enough for me.

Mushroom Bulgar Soup with Leeks and Fennel

2 big leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb, very thinly sliced (I used my mandoline)
5 big gloves garlic, minced
1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
Lots of extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan rind, if you have one
coarse salt
freshly ground pepper
2 Tb. fresh thyme, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. medium or coarse bulgar

In a large stockpot, heat 3 Tb. olive oil. Add leeks,fennel, and garlic, and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add parmesan rind, sliced mushrooms and saute for 10-15 minutes longer, adding salt, pepper, thyme, and more olive oil if needed. Don't be afraid of the oil here--it's the only fat in the soup.

Add water to cover vegetables by about 1 1/2". Add bulgar, bring to a boil, then simmer until bulgar is tender, about 10 minutes. Take 3 ladles of soup and puree them in a blender or food processor, then add back to the pot. Adjust seasoning to taste, and serve with grated parmesan on top if you like.

Soup will get thicker as it sits. If you're eating it the next day, you might want to thin it with a bit of water.