Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Creamy Sunchoke & Celery Soup

"Cream of" soups get a bad rap, especially when using a puree of root or starchy vegetables that will naturally provide a thick, creamy texture (also called "body") to many soups and starches. In such a case you can simply finish the soup with a dollop of cream, soy milk, or even low-fat sour cream and get that unctuous creamy satisfaction from what is a really healthful bowl of pureed veggies.

The flavor of this fast and elegant soup, based on sunchokes which are widely available through the winter until about April, is made a bit more complex with the addition of white wine, mustard, and freshly grated nutmeg which will give the soup a delicious "What IS that spice?" appeal. Enjoy.

To learn more about sunchokes, click here.


1 pound sunchokes sliced, and into a bowl of cold, acidulated water
3 cups celery stalks, diced(reserve celery leaves for garnish)
1 cups water
2 cups vegetable broth\
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 Tablespoon dry mustard
1 cup half-and-half or soy milk
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cloves of peeled garlic, minced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 medium yellow or white onion, diced

In a stainless steel or enamel pot, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat, and sauté, onions, shallots and garlic until onions begin to become translucent. Add sunchokes and celery and cook just until sunchokes become tender.

Deglaze by pouring in the wine and scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add stock, mustard and water and bring up to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Continue cooking for 15-20 minutes.

In a blender purée the mixture in batches, transferring it as it is puréed to a clean pot. Stir in the half-and-half, the nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat the soup over medium-low heat, stirring regularly.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each serving, with celery leaves.

Sunchoke & Yukon Gold Potato Gratin

Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, possess an undigestable carbohydrate called inulin, which is good news to carb-concious folks like diabetics. While inulin won't be converted to stored energy (a la ye old "muffin top" around the midsection), it does benefit the "good" bacteria in our digestive tract who have no problem breaking it down.

In this recipe, sunchokes are paired with potatoes, a good idea for anyone who loves the starchy texture of cooked potatoes, but would benefit from decreasing the impact of all those simple sugars. To learn more about sunchokes, click here.


1 cup vegetable stock
1-1/2 cream or unsweetened plain soy milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
3 pounds (about 6 large) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
3/4 pound (about 8) sunchokes, peeled
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a baking dish with olive oil or butter.

In a saucepan, combine the stock, 1 cup of cream (or soy milk), sea salt and pepper to taste, nutmeg and thyme. Bring to a boil, and immediately remove from heat.

Slice the potatoes and sunchokes into 1/8-inch slices, into a large bowl of cold, acidulated water (use a squeeze of lemon juice or splash of vinegar).

Arrange one thin layer of potato slices into the dish, season with salt and pepper, and top that layer with half of the sunchoke slices. Pour one cup of the stock mixture over the potatoes and sunchokes. Repeat layers until you use all of the product. Pour the remaining cream on top and sprinkle with thyme.

Bake uncovered for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400 degrees, top with grated cheese, and cook for 35 minutes or until fork tender. Allow the gratin to for 10 minutes before serving.

Sunchokes: while they last...

“What is that, Mommy?” my son asked suspiciously while pointing to a pile of knobby tubers that looks like little knots of ginger. “That’s a sunchoke, sweetie!” I said, and happily bagged up a pound.

Sunchokes are one of those vegetables that I reach for during this wacky window of time when the weather vacillates between Winter and Spring every few days. Prime time for sunchokes, which are best harvested after a frost and before their flowers bloom, is between the months of October and April, so let’s dig in and enjoy them while we can.

Sunchokes are also called Jerusalem Artichokes although they’re indigenous to right here in the U.S. of A. They’re also not artichokes, but the root systems of a member of the sunflower family with a cheery yellow bloom.
A centuries-old favorite among some Native tribes, food lore reports that sunchokes were discovered by Europeans after French explorer Samuel de Champlain sent some of these tubers to an Italian buddy who thought they tasted like artichokes and named "girasole articicco," meaning, "sunflower artichoke." The American corruption of the pronunciation lead to "Jerusalem" and the rest is history.

Eaten raw, sunchokes have a crisp, delicate flavor that is slightly sweet and nutty, similar to jicama and water chestnuts. However once cooked, the tubers take on a starchy texture, much like potatoes, and can be used in combination with or in lieu of potatoes in dishes like purees and gratins.

Speaking of starch, the botanically named Helianthus tuberosus stores its energy as inulin (a starch that is not used by the body unlike sugar and not to be confused with insulin) which is particularly good news for diabetics in because inulin breaks down into fructose instead of glucose during digestion, making sunchokes a good substitute for other starchy foods such as potatoes. Sunchoke flour is an alternative for those who are allergic to wheat and other grains.

Nutritionally, sunchokes are high in iron, thiamin and potassium and sunchokes also feed the healthy bacteria (lactobacilli) in the intestinal tract. Sunchokes cause flatulence in some people, which can be reduced by blanching or par-boiling the tubers before cooking.

To peel or not to peel? That is the question. If you choose fresh, firm, juicy sunchokes that aren’t overgrown then peeling them is really up to your discretion. Although the gnarly knobs look like ginger, the skin is much thinner and can be eaten. Larger sunchokes can be peeled with a paring knife or even a spoon. If you peel them, drop them in acidulated water (water with a squeeze of lemon juice or splash of vinegar) to prevent discoloration. It is also a good idea to dip peeled or cut sunchokes in acidulated water if you’ll be serving them raw, just like you would do with apples to prevent browning when exposed to air.

Peeled or not, since these are essentially roots, sunchokes should be scrubbed thoroughly before preparation. Avoid sunchokes with wrinkled skins, soft spots, blotched green areas or sprouts, but don’t be afraid of a light tinge of yellow, red or purple in the light brown skin depending on the soil in which they were grown.

Sunchokes are highly versatile and can be cooked like potatoes: baked, boiled, steamed, fried, and stewed. A bit of warning, though because they cook faster than potatoes and can easily be turned to mush in a matter of minutes. They are “done” when you can easily pierce them with a skewer or fork. To prevent discoloration in soups or gratins, try not to cook sunchokes in aluminum pans or pots made of reactive substances like iron.

Check out this Sunchoke & Yukon Gold Potato Gratin or Creamy Sunchoke & Celery Soup for recipe ideas!

Chef Asata Reid leads the Natural Foods Series offered monthly at Sevananda Natural Foods Market, where she has been a member since 2006. Through her Atlanta-based company, Life Chef, she leads cooking classes and healthy food seminars, and discusses all things food-related at www.lifechef.blogspot.com. As a mother and world-neighbor, she is also an advocate for healthy children and families through the Children's Wellness Network.