Wild Mushroom Barley Bake
Wild Mushroom Barley Bake (Houbový Kuba) is a traditional South Bohemian dish that is served for lunch on Christmas Eve. It primarily consists of barley and mushrooms and has plenty of garlic, marjoram and caraway, all of which are traditional Czech flavors. The original recipe calls for black trumpets (Craterellus cornucopioides), but you can make it with any combination of fresh or dried wild mushrooms like boletes, chanterelles, milk caps, or oysters. For this recipe, I used fresh yellowfoot chanterelles (Craterellus tubaeformis), velvet shanks (Flammulina velutipes), and brick caps (Hypholoma sublateritium).
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The yellowfoot chanterelle (Craterellus tubaeformis) is an excellent edible winter mushroom that grows in temperate and cold parts of Europe and Northern America, Russia, as well as in Asia and parts of the Indian subcontinent.
To read more about this mushroom, check out my Yellowfoot Chanterelle Goulash recipe.
This winter edible mushroom is commonly known as velvet shank. It naturally grows in dense clusters on the wood of hardwoods, especially beech. When cultivated, it is known as enokitake and has a very different appearance due to the lack of light exposure, resulting in white color.
Fond of cold weather, velvet shanks (Flammulina velutipes) usually appear in late fall or winter or early spring. They grow in dense clusters from both living and dead wood of hardwoods, but the wood is sometimes buried, making the mushrooms appear terrestrial. The mushrooms have orangish to reddish or yellowish brown caps that are shiny and sticky, almost rubbery, when wet. They have velvety stems that turn brown overtime from the base upward as they get exposed to light. The orange gills are crowded and attached to the stem.
Lookalikes include the poisonous deadly galerina (Galerina marginata), which has a ring present around the stem and a rusty spore print—velvet shanks have a white spore print, which you can often see on the caps of the lower mushrooms in the cluster.
- Grows in dense clusters on hardwood tree trunks and stumps
- Has an orange cap, orange crowded gills, and a velvety orange or brown stem
- Does not have a ring around its stem
Commonly known as brick caps or brick tufts, this widely distributed fall mushroom grows in tight clusters on hardwood stumps and logs that can sometimes be buried, making the mushroom appear terrestrial.
This is a common fall mushroom that grows in tight clusters on hardwood stumps and logs, particularly oaks, and on buried or exposed roots of dead hardwood trees. The brick-red caps are about 3-10 cm and are paler on the margin. The gills are adnate and crowded and initially cream, turning olive-grey and then purplish brown as the spores mature. This mushroom also has short-gills, which do not extend all the way to the stem. It has fibrous stems that are up to 10 cm long and up to 1.5 cm in diameter. They are light ochre at the apex, darkening to a reddish-brown base. Sometimes you can see a faint ring zone on the stem and feathery fragments on the cap margin. Both of these features are the remnants of a veil that initially covers the gills.
These wood-rotting mushrooms occur throughout most of mainland Europe and are also common in Britain and Ireland, the USA, and Japan.
The edibility of brick caps is controversial depending on which guides you use as reference. See the section below.
Taste & Edibility
The edibility of this mushroom is controversial. According to some North American guides, it is an edible mushroom, while European guides label it as inedible and sometimes even mildly poisonous. Even in the US, this mushroom is often avoided for kitchen use because of its close resemblance to two poisonous mushrooms: sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) and the deadly galerina (Galerina marginata). If you are 100% sure of your ID, you may find that brick caps have a very good, mild, nutty flavor. However, if collected before the fall frost (or if they are old specimens), they can be bitter. Bill Russell, a Pennsylvania-based mycologist, reports that if bitterness is present, some old time mushroomers soaked them in a quart of water with a tablespoon of vinegar! ⠀
- Grows in small clusters on hardwood tree trunks and stumps
- Has a brick-red cap with a paler margin, cream-colored crowded gills, and a fibrous stem with a reddish-brown base
- Has a faint ring on the stem
And now, finally, let's get to the recipe.
Wild Mushroom Barley Bake
This is a traditional Christmas Eve dish that dates back to pagan times, when religious customs dictated that people fast and abstain from meat before Christmas Eve. You can make this barley-based, risotto-like dish with fresh or dried mushrooms. Although dried mushrooms have a more concentrated flavor, there's something magical about going into the woods in December and foraging for fresh ones to make this hearty vegetarian dish.
Even though this is a traditional Christmas dish, there's no reason you can't make it throughout the year. Packed with healthy nutrients from the mushrooms, barley and garlic, this makes a delicious vegetarian dish for any occasion.
Please be extremely careful cooking and eating foraged mushrooms. Never eat a mushroom that you are not 100% sure of its ID. The best way to learn how to identify and forage for edible mushrooms in your area is to join a local mushroom club or go with a trusted mushroom identifier or a mycologist. Then, even if you are 100% sure of its ID and know it's an edible mushroom, always try small quantities of a new mushroom first before eating a large batch to make sure it sits with you well. Eat at your own risk.
- 14 oz (400 g) pearl barley, soaked overnight
- 3 tbsp ghee
- 2 large onions, finely diced
- 1.5 lbs (700 g) fresh wild mushrooms, cleaned and roughly chopped (or 2.5 oz / 70 g dried ones)
- 4–6 cloves or garlic, 1 whole, the rest pressed
- 3 tbsp dried marjoram
- 1 tbsp caraway seeds
- salt and pepper
Rinse and soak the barley overnight. If using dried mushrooms, soak them over night in a separate container.
Discard the soaking water, add new water to the pot and cook the barley in salted water along with 1 whole garlic clove for about 20 minutes, until the barley is soft. Drain, discard the garlic, and place the barley back into the pot.
Drain the soaked dried mushrooms and squeeze any water out of them.
Melt 3 tbsp of ghee in a heavy-based saucepan on medium heat. Add the diced onion and sauté, stirring until softened and slightly browned, about 5 minutes.
Using a cast iron skillet works really well for sautéing mushrooms.
Add 1 tbsp caraway seed and the cleaned fresh mushrooms and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Stir. Sauté for about 10 mins, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have wilted and reduced in volume. If needed, work in batches. If using dried mushrooms, sauté briefly, about about 3 mins.
If you're working with a mix of wild mushrooms and want to keep them separate, you can work in layers like I did here.
Add the mushroom mixture to the pot with barley, add the pressed garlic, 3 tbsp of marjoram, rubbing it in your hands as you add it to release flavor. Add salt and and freshly ground pepper. Mix well.
Transfer to a greased casserole dish and bake at 355°F (180°C) for about 20 minutes.
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- Flammulina velutipes (Curtis) Singer - Velvet Shank by Pat O'Reilly, First Nature, Retrieved January 2021.
- Flammulina velutipes by Michael Kuo, MushroomExpert.com, February 2013.
- Hypholoma lateritium (Schaeff.) P. Kumm. - Brick Tuft by Pat O'Reilly, First Nature, Retrieved January 2021.
- Hypholoma sublateritium by Michael Kuo, MushroomExpert.com, February 2014.
- Štědrovečerní dobrota: Kde se vzal tradiční houbový kuba? by Kateřina Höferová, 100+1 Zahraniční Zajímavosti, December 24, 2020.
- Velký Atlas Hub by Ladislav Hagara, Vladimír Antonín, Jiří Baier, Ottovo Nakladatelství 2005.
- Velký Fotoatlas Hub z Jižních Čech by Tomáš Papoušek (Editor), 2004.
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