By Michael Simonson
From: The Sisterhood of Congregation Habonim, New York, New York ; edited by Carol Kahn. Recipes Remembered. 3rd printing. New York : The Sisterhood of Congregation Habonim, 1976, 1988. LBI Library call number st 4841
As an archivist at Leo Baeck Institute, I’ve worked with a number of wonderful volunteers, former refugees from Germany and Austria, who contributed to Recipes Remembered. This community cookbook, assembled at New York’s Congregation Habonim, has become a seminal document of the cuisine of the German-Jewish refugee community in Washington Heights.
An intern and I chose to try out the Mushroom Strudel submitted by Bea Bayer. The intern is a vegetarian, and we wanted something we could both eat. We both like mushrooms, so this recipe was ideal. I had my reservations, because, coming from the Midwest, the strudel reminded me of what is commonly referred to as a “hot dish” or “casserole.” I find such food rather bland, and German cooking is not really known for its spiciness anyway. Yet, I agreed to give it a go.
- 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 1 pound mushrooms, finely chopped
- shallots or scallions to taste
- 2 tablespoons Madeira wine
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ teaspoon tarragon
- ½ cup sour cream
- 1 package Strudel leaves
- ½ cup melted butter
- 1 cup fine breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Melt butter, add mushrooms, shallots, salt, pepper, wine and tarragon. Cook, stirring occasionally until most of liquid has evaporated. Let cool slightly. Stir in sour cream.
- Brush strudel leaves with melted butter and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Form sausage shape with the mixture at bottom of strudel leaf, fold over and roll. Brush with butter.
- Place on buttered baking sheet, cut into 1 ½ inch servings.
- Bake 15-20 minutes until crisp and brown.
This recipe is a variation of a “fruit strudel,” like an apple strudel, but savory. I am not sure if they have such a dish, a strudel shell filled with a savory vegetarian filling, in Germany or Austria. But as we talked about it, the intern from Germany (Berlin) pointed out that she thought there was something like this in parts of the country where they serve meat inside a strudel shell. This then, could be the kosher alternative to such a plate, for mushrooms have long been used in western cooking as a meat substitute. Because the recipe calls for butter and sour cream, in a kosher home meat would not be possible in this dish. This possible history of mushroom strudel was interesting! Did the contributor’s mother learn this from generations of Jewish mothers in Germany before her, a dish fitting for the more orthodox home?
We chopped the mushrooms and added a generous amount of shallots, at least a ¼ of a cup. I was worried that it wouldn’t be spicy enough. Unable to find fresh tarragon, I used one of the cheap spice shakers commonly found at groceries. I hoped I would be forgiven for not using fresh leaves. I wasn’t disappointed, it was still very good!
For the strudel leaves I used philo dough. I’m not accustomed to using philo or strudel dough, so was hesitant to overdo it. Now I see that wasn’t something to be concerned with. My German sous chef told me afterward that she thought we should have used more dough and double- or triple-wrapped the strudel. Even with a thin wrapper, the result was passable.
We didn’t measure out the butter, but melted some and simply poured it over the strudel liberally, not having a brush. That left things a bit on the oily side, but it was definitely rich and delicious! I had made sure to thoroughly butter the pan, and the bottom layer of philo dough in it.
I confess, I wasn’t expecting it to be all that great. So imagine my surprise when we sat down to try our creation and found it marvelous! Between the two of us, we ate the whole thing in one sitting (note the recipe says it serves 6-8). I’m used to eating spicy foods and forgot how good a basic dish, seasoned (liberally) with salt and pepper could be! It was reminiscent of home cooking in the upper Midwest, where I come from, and just as good! I would definitely make this again for my household or for a party. And it’s so great that it is vegetarian. No worries about those “veggie guests!” The mushroom filling was so easy to make, and was so delicious. I give this recipe an A+!