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  • Writer's pictureJay Murray

My Dinner with Andy (Warhol)

There are a couple of culinary instructors out there that have some dirt on me, and once a year, before and since the obvious COVID hoax, they demand that I prepare a dish for their Thanksgiving feast, and, weirder still, insist that I bring my family to sit with them and watch as they judge my work, speaking in code and casting furtive glances. If it weren’t for Xanax, I’m not sure I could manage at all.

What’s more, this year they flat out told me what to cook. At least in the past, I was allowed some creative license; no nuts was the only rule. But this year, not only must I avoid nuts, I’m expected to make a gluten-free, vegan green bean casserole.

Green been casserole was the brainchild of Dorcas Reilly, a cook in the home economics department of the Campbell’s Soup Company. She had the nifty idea of cross-marketing their Cream of Mushroom soup as the foundation of numerous casseroles. If fact, it became so ubiquitous in Minnesota hotdish recipes, that it earned the nickname, “Lutheran binder.” I had no idea that Lutherans were so randy, but I’m not especially familiar with their faith.

So, back to the gluten-free, vegan green bean casserole. First, this isn’t possible. Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup isn’t vegan, and cashew milk (a vegan dairy alternative) isn’t nut free. It fact, it’s made almost entirely of nuts. Okay, to be honest, those are both assumptions on my part, but I’m willing to stake my children’s lives on it. Second, I am the only person in this nation never to have had a green bean casserole at all. Now, down in South Cackalacky where my own culinary inspiration chose to retire, every supermarket’s every end cap begins as a skyscraper of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom, store brand, canned green beans and French’s fried onions; and by Thanksgiving, only shallow troughs remain, mass graves full of last minute shoppers’ regret.

If you’re vegan, you needn’t worry about waiting until the last minute. No one’s going to buy fresh mushrooms for this - they might even be on sale. So today I’m setting out to make a vegan cream of mushroom soup. We’ll tackle this casserole one step at a time.

Here’s one caveat, though: I did want to use a fortified wine for this - port, sherry or madeira - but there’s no vegan option that I can find, so I’m opting for Shaoxing wine from China. The wise, omniscient, kindly old internet seems divided on the vegan aspect here, although it appears that bentonite clay is the most common fining agent. Still, I can make no guarantees.

As for mushrooms, I’m opting for the suburban dad’s backyard favorite, the majestic portobello, a mushroom divinely designed to be a cheap balsamic vinegar sponge. (I’m not giving away my secret marinade recipe, and neither should you!) The portobello is a mature cremini mushroom, which, in itself, is just the precursor to the white mushrooms you see everywhere. All three are the agaricus bisporus. Once, in a simpler time, all mushrooms of this variety were brown. In fact, the first known cultivated agaricus bisporus appeared in 1707, and the mushrooms, themselves, take their name from the town of Portobello, Italy. I know, it sounds like I made that up, and I’m certainly not above that sort of thing, but it’s true. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that a white one popped up, a fluke, really, and American influencers of the day - and this was before social media, so imagine the scope of the task - decided that white mushrooms were superior. Fancy that. So white mushrooms became the preferred cheap, domestic choice for the next 60 years.

Alas, it’s now time to get on with cooking, but the recipe for the soup is here.

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* not to be confused with Lutheran bender.

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