Its nuts. In the last month, I’ve baked 17 batches of cookies, taken 13 flights halfway around the world, packed and unpacked countless times, wrapped a zillion presents and cooked a bunch of things for Christmas dinner. There’s still New Years and a boatload of college football to get through and this blog has fallen off my radar. I’m kind of wiped out (and apparently a bit of a whiner – ha!), yet today I got the urge to cook warm cozy things like soup. This is funny to me because generally I’m not much of a soup fan. Today it just seemed right.
Let me back up a bit. I have a habit of buying things I have no idea what to do with because they look “interesting.” This kind of thing happens often at my favorite Asian market where I tend to wander about in a daze. I once bought a bunch of longans on the branch because all the little Korean ladies were going crazy over the display. Elbows flying, sharp words in an unfamilar language, carefully aimed pointy little heels. Insanity. I figured if they were so excited, well then I should be too. Right? I elbowed my way into the mass and at my full 5’2″, I was a head or two taller so I had the height advantage for the first and only time in my life. I’d figure out what these longan things were later – right now I had to have them. (FYI – longans are a Chinese fruit with a thin, leathery skin and an extremely sweet, juicy white flesh.) They were very tasty and if the whole Korean-lady-hoopla hadn’t been happening at that moment, I would have missed the experience. I haven’t seen them since.
So my farmers market – The Green City Market – has hit the winter phase in its yearly life cycle. Many of the vendors fall off as the weather grows colder and the pickings become a bit slim but I like to get out there and support these folks regardless. Last week, I threw on my winter coat and dopey wool hat and went just a few hours before my flight was scheduled for takeoff (I tend to push my schedule to the limit too.) I scooped up a few beets, a lovely red kuri squash and some sunchokes because they looked “interesting” (case in point – see above.)
Sunchokes, also known as the Jerusalem artichoke, are the tuber of a sunflower variety and native to the eastern US. I’ve recently had sunchoke dishes at a few restaurants – Mado does a lovely salad with them shaved raw, a bit of arugula, a tart vinaigrette. Delicious. A friend recently mentioned she made a great soup so I decided to give them a whirl. One of the stands, Green Acres, had two varieties and after a nice chat I settled on the red globes for no reason other than they were prettier. Once home, I ate one raw – the flavor was delicate and a little nutty, similar to an artichoke heart but crisper like jicama. Interesting.
I’ve never cooked with these before and I’m not sure why – they’re delicious. Beth, the farmer, said peeling the chokes was unnecessary (what a pain that would have been.) I used the rough recipe I often use for potato soup – a simple onion and garlic sauté, then the chopped sunchokes, chicken stock, some herbs and simmered until tender. A quick zip with an immersion blender (or a regular blender) to smooth out the lumps. Then, because I can and so I did, in went a glug or two of heavy cream. Just a little to add a smidge of richness. You know what? It was a damn fine soup on this cold snowy day. Warm with just a touch of richness and a full but delicate nutty flavor. The great sunchoke experiment was a success – next up maybe a crispy raw salad.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: SOLID. Trying something new is good so bust out those sunchokes, or cherimoyas, or rambutans. Why not? What’s to lose? More importantly, support your local farmers who actually grow the stuff you don’t see in chain grocery stores. I think this is more important – what happens when this stuff disappears because Factory Farm decides it isn’t viable? It makes me shudder.
Makes 1 ½ quarts – serves 4
2 Tablespoons olive oil
½ of a large onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 ½ pounds of sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes)
5 cups chicken stock
½ teaspoon herbes de Provence
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup heavy cream (optional)
garnish – paprika, chopped parsley
- Dice the sunchokes into 1” pieces and set aside. No need to peel if they’re fresh, plump and the skin is thin. Try not to snack on too many.
- In a heavy pan over medium high heat, sauté the diced onion until translucent – about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and sauté for a minute until fragrant – do not burn.
- Add the sunchokes, chicken stock, herbes de Provence, black pepper and salt and bring to a boil.
- Partially cover, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until tender.
- Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.
- With an immersion blender or a regular blender, puree the soup until smooth.
- Add the cream (if using) and bring back to a simmer.
- Garnish with a dash or paprika and a pinch of fresh chopped parsley.