Outside my window I'm looking at an unusually strange view of the city I call home. Snow covered rooftops, white capped trees and chilly looking crocuses. Here in Vancouver, snow is something people tend to recoil from. It instills panic in a city full of cars with perpetual summer tires and bombards us with the idea of winter that we simply don't buy into. People drink their morning coffee on outdoor patios, I wear my summer jacket in February and DG insists on his tiny little nylon running shorts. This winter, however, has shown itself in a traditional Canadian manner with unseasonably cold weather and a month of snow banks and salted streets. Just as the reminder of the white stuff had vanished, as crocuses burst out in colourful song and the tulips and daffodils started to perk up and show themselves, and just 1 day after we had brunch on an outdoor patio, the skies opened up and it snowed! I'm sure I could hear the cries from all over the city. No....! Me, actually, I like snow. In fact I can't get enough of it. Shhh...don't tell or I'll get voted off!
I take this as a sign that I can still get in another winter vegetable soup. Today's soup recipe is one I developed a couple years ago as a way to use up a rather enthusiastic purchase of sunchokes, or jerusalem artichokes. This is one of my favourite ways of introducing this unique vegetable that unless you shop at farmers markets, you probably will never see. A friend gave me her bounty recently and I went about making a big batch of soup to preserve this vegetable before the spring peas and asparagus arrive.
The Sunchoke, also called Jerusalem Artichoke, is the tuber or root of a variety of sunflower. When I tell people that they instantly warm to it. It has no relation to artichokes, doesn't taste like them or look like them and isn't a native to Jerusalem. It is in fact native to North America. Sunchoke seems a more fitting name although then there's the choke part which puzzles. Seems like this is one misunderstood vegetable!
On first glance, sunchokes don't look like much, but its their oddness that certainly first inticed me years ago to take some home. Ever since I've eaten my share of these tubers. What it may lack in the looks department it makes up for in its distinctive flavour, which only gets better with cooking. Underneath a knobby skin, with its branched and tapered fingers, is a white crunchy interior something like a water chestnut. While most commonly used cooked, it can also be thinly shaved or minced and eaten raw as a fantastic crunch in a number of salad preparations. Raw it tastes of water chestnuts while more earthy and is extremely juicy. When cooked they become nutty and rich with a silky texture. As with most roots, they make a delicious addition to a mixture of roasted vegetables and can be cooked many many ways including boiled, sauteed or even deep dried.
These vegetables are too ugly, and I don't mean this as an insult, to be seen anytime in an of our large supermarkets, but I have seen them in natural food stores, organic delivery companies and of course the farmers market, which is where you will have the most chance of coming across them. Look for nice fat ones with uniform round size and not too many little "fingers" that can cook before the rest and burn.
Simply combined with aromatics and a good chicken stock, these pureed sunchokes make a very flavourful comforting soup. Due to their nutty flavour this dish shines when drizzled with a generous amount of any nut oil. I've used pistachio oil here. But a beautiful olive oil would also be lovely. Seems I've unintentionally started a White Soup Series!
Creamy Sunchoke Soup
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 pounds sunchokes, partially peeked and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 large shallot, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
1 bay leaf, fresh if possible
4 sage leaves or 4 sprigs thyme
1 large red potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
salt and white pepper
1/4 cup cream
nut oil for serving
Melt butter and heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute shallot and bay leaf until almost translucent, lowering heat if necessary to prevent any browning. Add garlic for 1 minutes.
Add vegetables, thyme/sage, stock and water. Bring to a boil and boil gently with lid ajar until very tender. Add salt and pepper gradually, tasting often. This will take about 20-25 minutes.
Remove herbs and puree in a blender or with a hand blender until very smooth. Reheat, gently, tasting for seasoning. Add the cream, do don't boil.
Serve with a drizzle of nut oil or olive oil
notes: be sure to clean these well, as their many ridges can hide dirt. Peeling is optional. While peeling will produce a whiter looking soup, they can be a pain to deal with.