One of the best parts about my job at the Alachua County Farmer’s Market is getting first dibs on new and interesting crops from our vendors. I was positively giddy when I found out that FrogSong Organics was going to have sunchokes! I have been interested in trying sunchokes ever since I found out that they are a perennial vegetable that thrives in our climate. I’m not going to plant them unless I know we like to eat them.
The only preparation the sunchokes seem to need is scrubbing and trimming. The first time I cooked them, I just rinsed them and cooked them whole. There were unpleasantly woody, fibrous pieces that wouldn’t puree, and had to be sieved out before serving. The next time I cut the sunchokes open and found that a few of the roots had a hollow fibrous core. These are the parts that must be cut out like a bruise or black spot on a potato. Also, make sure to inspect your sunchokes closely after cutting them up. Frogsong did an excellent job cleaning them before they were sold, but there were still some nooks and crannies with sand. No one likes gritty soup.
I have purchased several pounds of sunchokes over the past few weeks now, trying different recipes. The variety available here is very knobby and difficult to roast evenly. Boiling works better, since the thin skin is edible when pureed. I tried mashing them first but without a food processor I couldn’t get a thick, smooth puree. Then I simply cut them into chunks, simmered them in rich chicken broth, pureed the cooked sunchokes and broth in a blender, and started playing with flavors. This soup is warming but delicate, a welcome change from my standard winter lunch of sweet potato dal, and the shiitake mushrooms combine well with the subtle sweetness of the tubers.
Cream of Sunchoke Soup
Don’t leave out the horseradish, it’s not hot at all when it’s cooked.
1 lb fresh sunchokes, scrubbed
1 quart strong chicken broth, preferably homemade
3-4 garlic chives, chopped (or 3-4 green onions and a clove of garlic)
1 heaping tsp of grated horseradish
1 tsp dried thyme, or 2-3 tbl fresh thyme leaves
1/4 c cream, creme fraiche, or sour cream
1/2 lb shiitakes
3-4 tbl butter salt and pepper
Cut up, scrub, and remove any woody cores from the sunchokes. Pour the chicken broth in a pot and bring to a simmer. Add the sunchokes. Bring back to a simmer and cook until a knife passes easily through the largest piece. Let the chicken broth and cooked sunchokes cool slightly.
While the sunchokes are cooking, slice the shiitakes thinly and saute in butter until well-cooked and slightly crispy around the edges. Set aside.
Add the broth and tubers to a blender and puree until absolutely smooth, venting the top to make sure the steam can get out. Add the cream and herbs and whirl just enough to combine. Pour back into the pot and heat on low. Do not let it boil. Taste for salt and pepper, I like lots of pepper. Serve topped with the sauteed shiitakes and an extra sprinkle of pepper.