I don’t know which is a more unfortunate name for this vegetable: sunchoke or jerusalem artichoke. Sunchokes look like overgrown, dirty ginger, are a cousin of the sunflower (hence, sunchoke) and native to the US, and taste like a slightly sweet potato with a bit of nuttiness and the texture of a turnip. Unfortunately, both its names and odd ginger shape have caused this root to be relegated to the oddball end-of-year bins at farmers markets.
My past experiences with sunchokes have been minimal. Generally we’d be all the way through fall and well into winter before I’d seek out this root. I would be desperate for something different to eat and feeling as though there was nothing new in the world and I may just die of boredom. Then I’d spot a sunchoke in a market and edge toward it – probably mistaking it for ginger. I’d realize my mistake once I was standing over the grubby bin, wanting to shy away, but somehow I’d find myself thinking, “how bad can it be?” I’d settle on a few particularly knobby roots, take them home and place them on the table where they’d sit, admittedly, for too long. Eventually I would try to steam them or fry them or bake them. But generally my heart just wasn’t in it; my desire to cook lay dormant until spring.
This year I’ve been cultivating a taste for tubers, rhizomes, and the like as we’ve been spending more and more time without refrigeration and surrounded by seasonal and regional produce. First was sweet potatoes, then recently we tried mom’s glorious turnips. So when Priscilla called and asked if we wanted some sunchokes for our Thanksgiving dinner and she said they were lovely, I said “Yes ma’am.” She brought over two beautiful quarts of some heady vegetable stock with pepper and leeks and carrots and celery and a few tips on what to do – roast ‘em and puree ‘em into a soup. So roast and puree I did.
This recipe accentuates the nuttiness and sweetness of this sun root in a simple soup that begins in the oven and ends up in the pot. The big bunch of dill adds, well, dilliness and color to this otherwise monochromatic dish and the cream gives it just a touch of the refined.
Thank you Priscilla, for introducing me to such a wonderful vegetable. While they may look like lowly roots, they have a taste all their own. So grab a piece of crusty bread and enjoy.
Roasted sunchoke soup with cream and dill
3 1/2 lbs sunchokes (preferably small, round ones with barely any nubbins on ‘em), washed and scrubbed
3 tablespoons butter
2 quarts vegetable (or chicken) stock
1 huge bunch dill, washed and minced (about 2/3 cup yield)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups water
Make sure the racks are spaced in the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 425F.
Prep the sunchokes. Get out two large bowls and cover them with wet paper towels or plates (this prevents oxidation). Peel the chokes as best you can – this is no time to be anal. As long as you’ve scrubbed them clean, a little peel left on is good to taste and good for you. Place each choke in the bowl as you go. Once they’re all peeled, slice them thinly (1/8″) by hand or with a mandoline, continuing to add them to the bowl.
Roast the chokes. Toss the slices liberally in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Lay them out on two greased cookie sheets as thinly as you can. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, flipping every 10 minutes or so. Remove from the oven.
Note: You want the chokes to be slightly browned, soft in the center and still moist. If they are browning too quickly, turn down the heat and allow them to cook for longer.
Cut the leeks. Meanwhile, cut the green ends off the leeks (so you’re left with dark green and white). Slice them in half and then slice 1/4 inch thick slivers. Place in a bowl filled with cold water for a few minutes, then remove with your hands to clean paper towels.
Sweat the leeks. When the chokes are almost tender, heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium. Add the leeks and sweat, covered, until softened, about 8 minutes. Using a spatula, scrape the sunchokes into the pot and saute for a few minutes.
Puree and add the stock. Puree the chokes with an immersion blender. Begin adding the stock and pureeing until you have a soup that moves freely when stirred. If the stock is not enough, add in the few cups of water. If too grainy, continue to puree.
Season the soup. Add the dill and bring to a boil. Crack in 20 rounds of black pepper. Turn down to a low simmer and add in the cream. Stir, taste and adjust seasonings. Do not allow to bring back up to a boil. Once it tastes good, remove it from the heat and serve!
Tip: You can keep this in the fridge or freezer. To reheat, heat it up slowly on medium low, adding a bit more stock or water, if necessary. Do not allow to come to boil.