Can you see why I was derailed a bit? A knob of ginger (left) looks not unlike a sunchoke (right), would you agree? So here we are back at the soup venue.
I was thinking sweet potatoes. They’re insanely good (my son could eat them in, on, or with anything), and also insanely good for us. I won’t repeat the liturgy here; you can read it for yourself: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2667/2. I had half a head of cauliflower, and over the past couple of years I’ve fallen in love with it in a purée. Great, silky texture that will marry well with soup. And we know I have cornered the local market for sunchokes.
I remember my mother cooking what I remember her calling Jerusalem Artichokes. I don’t remember her growing them, however. Every summer for as long I could remember, she raised a truck-farm-style garden: tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, corn for crying out loud, and the like. She grew up on a farm in Michigan and had no use for anything that couldn’t be grown by the acre. Jerusalem artichokes, what we know as sunchokes, are tubers from a flowering plant in the aster family; the plant looks like small, branched sunflowers. Which is why I can’t square her with Jerusalem artichokes, unless they appealed to her sense of thrift bordering on parsimony, and drew her with the implication that they resembled an artichoke in taste. I remember that she peeled them, sliced them, and simmered them in something. I’d use cream; she would not. But I remember them being served simply with margarine. I’d use butter. I remember her explaining that they would taste like artichokes. Well, like the stems maybe. I don’t recall that they survived more than one experimental season.
So here I’m obviously going for a smooth-textured soup. We have an idea what sort of flavor sweet potatoes will bring. Cauliflower is going to lend it’s silky texture. In order to get the sunchokes to come along and behave, I’m going to need to cook them longer than my mother probably ever did. Which is fine, since the sweet potato and cauliflower are also going to want to cook to a very tender state. But I’m looking for something that is going to give a subtle punch of flavor, without becoming dominant. The original idea for this soup came from my California friend, Heidi, who is on a cleanse, and that brought me right back to where I started: ginger!
There is no dairy in this soup, and no fat. Ginger is going to be just the thing to brighten the flavor, along with a pinch of red pepper flakes, and won’t interfere with our texture. This is a job for an immersion blender. If you don’t have one, definitely put it on your wish list for an upcoming birthday, and in the meantime, use a food processor or even a blender. If using the latter, work in small batches, and beware the fact that hot foods take on a life of their own in one. Finally garnish with scallion greens for some lovely color and a bit of crunch.
SOUP FOR HEIDI
Serves 2, with leftovers
6 cups (1 1/2 quarts) vegetable stock (make your own with me this weekend, or use a good organic one)
1 sweet potato, peeled, cut into 8ths
1/2 head of cauliflower, cored, florets quartered
4 knobs of sunchokes, peeled, sliced
1 knob of ginger, peeled, sliced, and minced
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Greens of 2 scallions, 1/4″ slice
- Pour stock into a soup pot. Add all vegetables, including garlic. Bring to a simmer, then turn down heat a bit. The vegetables want to simmer gently so that they don’t disintegrate. Simmer until all vegetables until they can be pierced very easily with a sharp knife, 30 to 45 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and purée however you are best able to do so. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
- Serve garnished with the scallion greens.