Spiced Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup: also known as The Mighty Wind.
The Jerusalem artichoke, also commonly known as ‘sunchoke’, and less commonly known as ‘sunroot’ and the oddly compelling but confusing ‘earth apple’, is actually the root of a tall sunflower plant. But before you go digging around in your neighbor’s back yard, you should also know that it’s a relative but not exactly the same species as your average garden variety sunflower. Sheesh. The plant does not actually hail from Jerusalem (it’s likely a bastardization of ‘girasole’, the Italian name for sunflowers), and they’re also not part of the artichoke family. I’m telling you, sometimes gardeners just like to mess with our heads. That said, they do taste somewhat akin to an artichoke, although I would say their delicate and barely nutty flavor is similar to a cross between a potato and the stem end of a tender cauliflower…but that’s just me. They’re healthy little fellas, and each tuber is impressively high in potassium, iron, niacin, phosphorous and copper, among other things. Things like fiber.
Yes, that brings me to the true infamy of Jerusalem artichokes. Enough of this namby-pamby talk of minerals and nutrients, because these pretty little tubers are famous for an entirely other reason. They are famous for the flatulence.
The carbohydrate inulin (not insulin; inulin) is present in Jerusalem artichokes the way that starch is in potatoes. Your body, however, does not react to inulin the same way that it does to starch. Some people absorb it easily and it passes on through without a whisper through the willow trees. For the unlucky ones the affects are a bit more unpleasant, and can include wince worthy gastric pain and the kind of ranky farts that make you question whether you are rotting from the inside out.
My favorite Jerusalem artichoke quote, by far, is from the late (and only moderately great) gardener John Goodyer, the first person to cultivate the tubers in England. He wrote, “Which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men.” Okay, so I think that’s A BIT of an over-reaction, Johnny. However, as a gardener in the 16th century when food was of the essence and what we think of as herd crops were the norm for human consumption, I can only imagine how many of these he would have had to eat, and how miserable boiled Jerusalem artichokes would have made him.
But hark! There is hope! You know that I wouldn’t cook or eat something that was truly awful, right? Moreover, I wouldn’t encourage you to make it at home. I might serve it to an unwanted visitor who overstays their welcome, just for a lark, but really that’s the extent of it. I’m giving you this recipe because Jerusalem artichokes are nutritious and utterly delicious, and despite their dubious reputation there are ways to mitigate The Mighty Wind. Some of this is probably folk fiction, but a few suggestions for reducing the damage include:
- Parboiling the Jerusalem artichoke and discarding the water it was boiled in before continuing the cooking process.
- Cooking the tuber with fresh fennel, ginger or bay leaves.
- Use firm, supple, fresh Jerusalem artichokes rather than the ones which are withered or old (the elderly can be surprisingly hazardous, can’t they?).
- Don’t serve it on the side of prunes, Bran Buds, or Dairy Queen Blizzards.
- Finely slice and panfry the tuber into crisp potato-chip like snacks.
- Serve it on fine china. It doesn’t really help with the flatulence, but you’ll feel too classy to fart at the table.
I will be honest; I’ve seen an improvement through the parboiling, but I don’t know about the others. That said, this soup is quick to pull together, has a deliciously complex flavor yet it’s still too subtle to overpower, and it’s elegant enough to serve at a dinner party. Especially a dinner party where you want your guests to feel at home.
If you have ever seen your partner pause and spend a few minutes deliberating over faucets in Home Depot, and then when you curiously approach he hisses at you, “GO! GET AWAY!” and briskly bolts in the other direction as your eyes start to water, this soup is for you.
If “Cup and Blow” is your favorite party trick, despite your suspicion that it might be contributing to your continuing singledom, this soup is for you.
If your space heater is broken and you go to bed wondering if your toes will freeze and fall off, fear no longer. This soup is for you.
Really though, all jokes aside, Jerusalem artichokes are a deliciously nutritious tuber and if you give them a shot you might just find yourself hooked. They can be roasted or pan fried, scalloped or pureed, mashed and baked into a gratin, or even sliced paper thin and served raw in salad for a watery, nutty crunch. Just be sure to treat any cut Jerusalem artichokes in acidulated water (water with a squeeze of lemon juice) because they discolor quickly in the open air. Other than that, experiment to your heart’s content! And if you need some guidance, start with a soup…..
Spiced Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
Serves serves 4-6
- 1.75 lb (800 g) Jerusalem artichoke *
- 2.5 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 3 big fat cloves garlic (or 4 medium)
- 1″ chunk fresh ginger (1 tbsp finely minced)
- 2 medium celery ribs
- 1/2 tsp mustard seed
- 1/2 tsp coriander seed
- 1/2 tsp fennel seed
- pinch of red chili flakes, optional
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups water
- salt and pepper to taste
- a few shavings of parmigiana reggiano and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to finish
* Pick Jerusalem artichokes that are firm and unblemished with a smooth skin and slight blush. They often look a bit like fresh ginger root. If the tubers are wrinkled or grayish, keep walking by.
Aren’t they lovely? Just look at those twee little tubers and tell me if you wouldn’t give them a shot, despite their bad rap. The color of fresh Jerusalem artichokes varies from a creamy beige or a tawny brown all the way to a decidedly pinkish or purple hue. If nothing else, the thought of pink root vegetables has me smitten every time.
Peel the Jerusalem artichoke and cut them into fat chunks of about 3/4 – 1 inch. Put the artichokes in a pot full of cold water as they get prepped to prevent discoloration. Season the pot with a hearty helping of sea salt (about a tablespoon should do the trick) and put it over medium high heat. Bring the water up to a boil and let the Jerusalem artichoke bubble away for five minutes. When the chokes are pleasantly parboiled, drain the pot and give them a good rinse under cold running water.
While the water is heating, dice the onion and mince the garlic and peeled ginger.
Pour the oil into a pot and scatter on the mustard, coriander, and fennel seeds. Put the pot over medium heat and let the spices warm in the oil until they’re fragrant and starting to brown and pop.
Add in the onion and garlic and saute for 5-7 minutes until the onion is starting to turn a delicious harvest golden hue. If the garlic and onion look like they’re starting to brown, turn the heat down and continue to stir. The taste of burnt garlic or onions will add an unpleasant bitterness to this subtle soup.
Chop the celery into a small dice and add this to the other aromatics, stirring and then letting it all continue to cook together for another 2 minutes until the celery just starts to soften.
Add the parboiled and rinsed Jerusalem artichokes to the mixture and pour in the chicken stock and water. Add the bay leaf and a pinch of chili flakes if you’re using them. Turn the heat down to medium low and leave the pot to simmer, uncovered, for 35-45 minutes. The tubers will be cooked after about 10-15 minutes, but the additional simmering time will make them mushy soft and easier to puree, as well as encouraging the flavors to meld.
Puree the soup using a hand blender until it is smooth and free of lumps. If you don’t have a hand blender you can use an upright blender to puree the soup in batches. However, please, for the love of god and the sake of my sanity, PLEASE use caution when you puree hot liquids. Don’t over fill the blender, keep the lid held down tightly, and gradually increase the speed. I might be as much of a pain in the rear as this soup is, but as someone who has spattered her delicate eyelids with molten lava-like chowder, I say these things for your benefit.
I like a rustic pureed soup that’s just the teensiest bit granular, like a traditional vichyssoise, but if you want a smooth and silky soup all that you have to do is strain it through a wire mesh and back into the (clean) pot.
Season the soup with salt and pepper, keeping it rather heavy handed. Soups love salt, and this starchy puree gets all giggly and starts to stammer when the pepper mill comes in sight. Have a heavy hand, particularly as far as the freshly cracked is concerned.
Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with a thin curl or two of good parmigiana reggiano cheese, a drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil, and one more crack of pepper because that’s just how you roll.
Healthy, light, but packed full of nutrients and a subtly exotic flavor, this elegant soup is easy enough for a mid-week dinner, but gracious enough for a Saturday dinner party with guests.
A warm homemade roll and a fresh green salad, and a crackling fireplace is all you need to while away the winter blahs.
Now go out and get yourself some Jerusalem artichokes, because they’re almost at the end of their season. You heard me, git!