Most cultures in the world have traditional dishes that are centered around, or include, mushrooms. The Ukrainian culture is no different. In fact, mushroom gathering for Ukrainians is quite the thing!
When my ancestors immigrated to Canada from the village of Syn’kiw on the banks of the Dniester River in the Ukraine, they brought their mushroom harvesting skills with them. As a child, I remember my grandfather going out for the afternoon and returning with a five-gallon pail full them! It was an art passed down from generation to generation. You had to know what to pick (and what NOT to pick) so you didn’t get everyone sick (or worse!). In the Ukraine, one’s family mushroom patch is a carefully guarded secret. For those that found their way to this side of the Atlantic, the mushroom patch is not quite so clandestine, but its location is not by any means freely-volunteered information.
When you pick mushrooms, those you keep get cut off with a knife in order to protect the main root of the fungus from damage. The flat surface left by the knife still allows the main body of the fungus, found mostly underground, to withstand and repel infection and rot, thereby helping it to stay healthy and continue to produce mushrooms in the future. Poisonous mushrooms are pulled or twisted out of the ground when found. The socket left by the mushrooms removed in this way leaves the root open to rot and infection, weakening it so it does not produce as much and maybe someday killing it.
Poisonous mushrooms can cause anything from digestive upset to death, so this is not something you want to take lightly. The traditional way to check a batch of mushrooms for poison was to saute the mushrooms with chopped onion. Onions are naturally absorbent of toxins in their environment (hence why they have been used to draw fever out of the body by placing a sliced onion on the soles of the feet). If there is a poisonous mushroom in the mix, the onions are said to turn black and then you know those mushrooms are not safe to eat. I never became particularly skilled in mushroom identification, so I stick to buying my mushrooms from the store, though I would like to try one of those grow-your-own kits someday.
I, personally, love mushrooms! Scott hates them. With a capital “H”! That’s ok, just means more for me! Mushrooms are actually a great source of some hard-to-get micronutrients, including a variety of B vitamins, selenium, potassium, copper, iron, and phosphorus. Beta-glucans, naturally-occurring polysaccharides, have a strong healing and immune supporting effect on the body, and mushrooms are particularly high in these. An important reason to include them in a healing diet!
Pidpenky was the name of a type of mushroom often eaten in the Ukraine, which translates to “honey mushroom” in English. The Ukrainians named their signature mushroom dish after it, but you can use any kind, or combination of kinds, of mushrooms. Essentially, pidpenky is sauteed mushrooms and onions in a cream gravy that is usually served for special occasions, like Christmas and Easter. It was made either with regular cream, known as sweet pidpenky, or with sour cream, known as sour pidpenky. This recipe is an AIP adaptation of sweet pidpenky. To achieve the flavour of sour pidpenky, simply double the garlic and add one teaspoon of white vinegar when you add the bone broth and coconut milk.
- 1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced or chopped
- 3-4 tablespoons high heat cooking fat of choice (coconut oil, avocado oil, tallow, bacon fat, duck fat etc.)
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced OR 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 cup bone broth*
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- salt to taste
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot starch**
- 1 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped
- Saute onion and garlic in fat over medium heat until translucent and fragrant.
- Add mushrooms to onion and cook for 10 minutes, stirring as needed to ensure even cooking of mushrooms.
- Add bone broth and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Salt to taste. Mix arrowroot starch with a small amount of cold water to dissolve. Stir into mushroom mixture to thicken.
- Stir in dill just before serving.
*For a vegan alternative, you can use vegetable broth.
**If you are sensitive to starches, I would recommend adding an extra 1/4 cup coconut milk and eliminating the arrowroot starch. Simmer until the sauce reduces to a thickened consistency.
Pidpenky is great on it’s own, usually as a side dish, but my favourite way to eat it is over top of a few deruny (traditional Ukrainian potato pancakes similar to latkes). Stay tuned for an AIP version of that recipe coming up!