2 lbs sunchokes
2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock (depending on dietary restrictions)
1 medium sized apple (preferably of a variety that is highly acidic, I like Ashmead’s Kernel apples)
1 large leek
2 cloves garlic
½ of a shallot
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Grape seed oil
¼ cup of olive oil or ½ stick of butter (depending on preferences and diet)
2 tbsp of toasted sesame seeds
1 sprig of thyme
10 black peppercorns
3 cardamom pods (Optional! But delicious!)
Salt (to taste)
Aged Apple cider vinegar (Sherry works well too)
Cheesecloth and some butchers twine
Marigold petals for garnish (optional)
When it seems like things are getting bleak, go to the farmer’s market and make soup! Soup is good and warm, and you’re cold, and maybe lonely. I’ve found the farmer’s market to be a break from the redundancy of 2020. It’s another world where folded plastic tables are overflowing with an ever-changing assortment of little, tasty, sweet, and savory roots and leaves that have just been pulled from the ground. For a little bit of money you can buy them, brush the dirt off, and make something delicious that will remind you that there are still near-perfect moments to look forward to.
This is a simple technique for making a pureed soup and can be applied when cooking with many other root vegetables. I start by thinly slicing my leeks, shallot, and garlic (these are called alliums) while warming a large pot on the stove. Then, add enough grapeseed oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pot, add the alliums and season with salt. Sautee on medium heat. You don’t want to get a lot of color on the alliums, more on this below.
In the meantime, peel or scrub your sunchokes with a ScotchBrite green scrubby pad to remove most of the skin and all of the dirt. Have a bowl nearby with acidulated water (or just squeeze half a lemon into some cold tap water, that’ll work just fine). Slice the sunchokes thinly and add them to the water, this will stop them from oxidizing and turning your soup brown. You’ll know when the alliums have started to break down when they become soft and translucent. Now, strain the sunchokes out of the acidulated water and add them to the pot along with toasted sesame seeds. Finally, add enough of your chosen stock to cover all of the contents and turn the stove up to a medium heat.
Next, you’re going to make an herb pouch by wrapping your bay leaf, thyme, black pepper and optional cardamon in a square of cheese cloth. Tie it into a little sack using the butcher's twine and throw that into the pot as well. While this comes to a simmer, peel, quarter and remove the seeds from your apple. Heat up a cast-iron pan. Place the apple in the pan and caramelize the apple, lightly browning each side; this will give a richer flavor to the soup.
Once lightly caramelized, add the apple to the pot along with about half of your lemon zest. Let everything simmer for about 20-40 minutes, or until the apple and sunchokes are extremely tender.
Now that everything has softened and the flavors have melded, remove your herb pouch and pour the contents of the pot into a blender. Puree on high speed until the mixture is extremely smooth. Taste and season with salt, vinegar and lemon juice. Finally, cube your butter and add it slowly to emulsify in the soup, or if you’re going with olive oil, stream it in slowly. Do this to suit your own tastes and dietary restrictions but the suggested measurements give you a sense of what constitutes a good starting point.
I like to serve the soup with a spoonful of a chimichurri made with a little bit of minced garlic, minced apple, finely chopped parsley, really good olive oil and cracked black pepper. Sometimes, I'll add my remaining lemon zest to this as well.
Sure, color and browning mean flavor and caramelization. Roasted sunchokes can be delicious but this doesn't mean you always want or need all that flavor. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes in a veloute, or in this case a simple sunchoke soup, you are trying to coax out the pure, subtle flavors of these roots. That flavor that can easily be overpowered by the maillard reaction taking place, especially in a vegetable as earthy as sunchokes. Color with caution!