With every step it takes to acquire, store, prep, cook and, eventually, serve a plate of food, there are ample opportunities to consider that meal’s overall environmental impact. Typically in this space, we home in on a single facet of a single step to give readers ideas for making eco-friendly meals.

It occurred to us that it might be helpful to connect the dots. Today we introduce the Green Plate Makeover. Periodically, we’ll take a favorite recipe (which we hope you’ll send to us) and rework it to make a “greener” version.

We’ll examine ingredients to see which imported ones can be sourced locally, which costly ones can be minimized, and which processed ones can be made whole. We’ll rework prep tasks to cut food waste and suggest cooking techniques that minimize energy expenditures. We’ll consider how bulk purchases on the front end of the process, and making double batches for leftovers on the tail end, will serve both the planet and eaters better.

For our inaugural Green Plate Makeover, I turned the cookbook page back to a recipe for the first mushroom soup I ever made from scratch. It came from the “Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook” that my grandmother acquired using Green Stamps (remember those?) circa 1980. It’s creamy, mushroom-packed, and versatile – it suits both a thermos in a lunchbox and a gold-rimmed bowl at a dinner party.

I immediately crossed off the bouillon cubes the recipe calls for and wrote in homemade chicken stock, a move that both cuts chemicals and honors the farmers market chicken I roasted by drawing out every last bit for nourishment from its bones. I ramped up the flavor with local dried mushrooms and thyme.

The original calls for a stick of butter and a cup of heavy cream. Sure, I can buy these locally, but factoring in sustaining a body over time, a healthier option to enrich the soup is a grated Maine potato. When pureed, the potato makes the texture almost creamy. Also, the grated potatoes, greener than diced because they require less energy to cook through, thicken the soup, letting you skip the butter-and-processed-white-flour roux called for in the original.

To further cut energy requirements, I put a lid on the pot. That simple step halves the amount of natural gas required to boil a pot of liquid on my stove. And I doubled the reworked recipe, because – if you hold off on adding the tiny amount of cream I kept in the soup – it freezes really well and doesn’t take much energy to reheat at a later date.

To minimize the amount of water needed for cleanup, I used a stick (or immersion) blender to puree the soup, not my countertop model, as the former takes only a quick dip in a dishpan of soapy water to wash.

I’d like to make your favorite recipes greener. Please send them to the email address below.


Cremini or button mushrooms work best for this soup; avoid shiitake.

Makes 12-14 cups of soup

2 pounds mushrooms

3 tablespoons butter or bacon fat

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 small onions, sliced thinly

7 cups homemade chicken stock

1 cup shredded Maine potato

1 ounce local dried mushrooms

4 sprigs of thyme tied together with an 8-inch piece of kitchen twine

½ cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Clean mushrooms by brushing loam off with a dry towel, if necessary. Remove the mushroom stems from caps. Set the stems aside and slice caps thinly.

Over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons butter (or bacon fat) to a Dutch oven. Add the mushroom caps, stir to coat with fat.

Allow the mushrooms to cook undisturbed for 3 to 4 minutes so that some get browned on the bottom. Add the lemon juice. Stir and cook 3 to 4 minutes more, until the mushrooms have released some of their liquid. Use a slotted spoon to remove the caps from the pot. Set aside in a bowl.

Lower the heat to medium, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, the mushroom stems and the onion. Cook, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes until the onions are tender.

Add the stock, potato and dried mush- rooms. Tie the loose end of the kitchen twine to the pot handle and toss the tethered thyme into the pot. Cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until all the ingredients are tender.

Add half of reserved mushroom caps. Use a stick blender to puree the soup. Stir in the remainder of the reserved sliced caps.

If you plan to freeze half of this soup to eat later, do that now. Stir ¼ cup cream (the full ½ cup if you are not freezing any) into remaining soup and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at [email protected]

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