My favorite part about going to the farmers’ market is seeing something new… or different… or something with local seasonality. This week I found Jerusalem artichokes.
Now the most ironic thing about these gnarled little tubers is that they are neither from Jerusalem nor are they even artichokes. They are actually native to eastern North America, found as far north as Maine and as far south at Florida, and they are the root vegetable of a type of daisy which looks more like a weed. In fact, I am certain I have pulled this weed from the far end of my yard and I know I have seen it growing wild along eastern rural highways on road trips.
According to food historians, Native Americans on the east coast cultivated and ate Jerusalem artichokes long before 1585, which is also around the time that English settlers to Virginia took the tubers back to Europe and begin growing them there. Further research suggests that they got the name Jerusalem as a corruption of the Italian name for sunflowers, girasole, which the actual flower does resemble. Nowadays, the tuber vegetable is often called a sunchoke or sunroot in an effort to correct the wrong in alluding to it’s foreign origins.
In Europe, the sunchoke is more popular in its natural state than stateside and even used to make alcohol in Germany. In America, the sunchoke is more often processed and used in commercial products as fructose. Sunchokes also have a potential as a producer of ethanol-fuel.
Nutritionally speaking, sunchokes are high in potassium with a significant amount of fiber, iron, niacin, copper, thiamine, and phosphorous. My research found that there are some claims to additional health benefits from eating sunchokes with regards to diabetes. I haven’t talked to my doctor about it and I am not a medical professional. To paraphrase with the southern charm of Food Network host Paula Deen, “I am not your physician, I am your cook.” To wit, I can tell you how to grow it, harvest it, prepare it, and make it taste incredible. I can even provide the history and research; but I feel like right now, I should tell anyone thinking sunchokes can and will cure their diabetes to consult their doctor before stopping insulin.
And now that the PSA, public service announcement, is complete….
Sunchokes can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw, they have a texture like jicama or water chestnuts, sunchokes can be used in salads. Cooked sunchokes have three different textures: steamed, sautéed, or baked; they hold their shape well and will have the texture of a potato. Boiled sunchokes become very soft and mushy and are suited for soup or a pureed addition to mashed potatoes. Fried sunchokes are crisp on the outside and delicately smooth
Sunchokes taste like an artichoke heart… only with the flavor volume amped up higher. The flavor is earthier, nuttier, and sweeter; but ironically, the finish is more delicate. On a gloomy and damp day in south Florida, the sunchokes made the most simple and most comforting and straightforward soup that I have ever had…garnished simply with a drizzle of truffle oil and fresh snipped sage.
My Recipe: SUNCHOKE SOUP W TRUFFLE OIL AND SAGE serves 1
1 c fresh sunchokes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 c vegetable stock or chicken stock
kosher salt, to taste
ground white pepper, to taste
truffle oil, to garnish
snipped sage, or chives, thyme, or flat-leaf parsley, to garnish
Place sunchokes in stock; bring to a boil
Reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes; until vegetables are very tender
Pour sunchokes and stock into a standard blender and puree until smooth, adding more stock, a little at a time, to achieve desired consistency
Alternately, the mixture can be pureed with a hand-held blender in the pot until smooth
Return soup to pot over low heat; season with kosher salt and ground white pepper to taste
To serve: Pour soup into a bowl, drizzle with truffle oil and sprinkle with finely snipped sage, or herb of your choice
The fresh sipped sage gives just enough the textural contrast in this smooth pureed soup. The truffle oil is just over the top elegant making this soup feel very luxurious. I suppose a swirl of heavy cream to finish the soup could give an additional layer of luxury to the soup or replace the truffle oil. Though I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like truffle oil… and even if I did, I have blocked it from my mind… because everyone desires truffle oil in my culinary perfect world.
But, I digress…so that I can fill my mouth with another spoonful of Sunchoke Soup.
always in good T.A.S.T.E – cause you gottatastethis!