On Thursday afternoon my workmate approached me: “I’m so sorry I never brought you those quinces*, but to make it up I’m going to bring you a surprise tomorrow…” Turns out she’s just as bad as keeping secrets as I am at waiting to find out, and so I quickly discovered that the surprise was freshly dug Jerusalem artichokes from her garden. I’ve been looking forward to Jerusalem artichokes ever since summer, so this was heart-stoppingly exciting stuff. Also it may have been a slow day at work.
So on Friday morning I arrived at work to find, sitting on my chair, a plastic bag tied shut, full of what looked like moist, brown lumps. I did a double take and then remembered: the Jerusalem artichokes, so fresh out of the ground the dirt hadn’t quite dried. Best Friday morning ever.**
These knobbly, alienlike*** tubers aren’t from Jerusalem and they aren’t artichokes either; this combination of ugly looks and peculiar misnomer gives them sort of an oddball charm that I can’t help but love. I found out from Sasa (of Sasasunakku) they’re called topinambur in Austria, which is even more endearing, reminiscent of some awkward imaginary creature (we thought perhaps a round, brown, snuffly marsupial).
But enough about loving these things simply because they’re weird: they’re actually delicious. I only discovered this last autumn, when I had one for the first time as part of a tray of roast veggies at a friend’s potluck dinner. I haven’t looked back since. As long as I could get my hands on them last year, Jerusalem artichokes appeared on my plate. When cooked, they’re almost creamy in texture, nutty-sweet in flavour. You almost expect them to taste like potatoes and then you bite in, and your eyes pop open in a moment of “whoa”: expectations exceeded. Here is a short list of things you can do with these delightful nuggets:
- roast them, either on their own or tossed into your usual roast veg mix
- peel, cook & purée them in place of pureed potato or parsnip (also very good mixed in with pureed potato)
- sauté them with herbs and butter
- make soup
I love Jerusalem artichoke soup; it’s up there with roasting as one of my favourite ways of eating them. This time, though, I felt I had to do something a bit special, seeing as these Jerusalem artichokes were a bit special themselves, having been hand-dug and delivered to my desk and all. I saw this recipe for a creamy bamboo shoot & miso soup on Just Hungry**** and had this hunch that Jerusalem artichokes would go perfectly in place of the bamboo shoot.
And I was right: the nutty sweetness of the Jerusalem artichokes combined with the deep, salty-earthy miso flavour made every bite of this soup eye-poppingly good. I guess you have to like miso, though; my flatmate didn’t seem too impressed after one bite: “hmm, I can really taste the miso!”
I changed a couple of things from Maki’s recipe – because I wanted the flavour of the Jerusalem artichokes to stand out (and because the leek I had was massive) I upped the Jerusalem artichoke to 2 cups (chopped) and cut the leek by half. I also used Maki’s instructions for making this using uncooked rice, since I didn’t have any leftover cooked rice.
If, like my flatmate, you’re miso-averse, you may want to consider cutting the miso down to 1 tablespoon. Don’t omit it altogether, though – it really makes this soup something else.
*Girl lives in Featherston, has an ancient quince tree and evidently lots more exciting things growing in her garden. She promised to bring me quinces but we both seem to have forgotten… I’m so glad she remembered and felt she had to make it up to me, though!
**well, until morning tea time, when we had an amazing pineapple & brazil nut cake from Pandoro
***though not as alienlike as celeriac
****I may have mentioned it before, but it’s a great blog, with mostly Japanese recipes, written by a Japanese expat
8-10 Jerusalem artichokes (2 cups peeled & chopped)
1 tbsp butter
1/2 the white part of a leek, finely sliced
1 tbsp uncooked white rice
2 cups milk
2 tbsp miso
Start with the most time-consuming and annoying part: peel the Jerusalem artichokes. Yes, it’s infuriating, because they’re so small and knobbly (I find a sharp paring knife works better than a peeler here, but up to you). Once that’s done, cut them up into fairly even-sized chunks; set aside.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the leek. Sauté over medium to medium-low heat. Don’t let it burn. Once the leek reaches that soft-translucent stage, add the Jerusalem artichokes and give everything a good stir; let it sauté for a couple minutes and add the rice along with 2 cups water.
Turn up the heat to high until the water boils, then lower heat to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes until the water’s mostly evaporated and the Jerusalem artichokes are soft when stabbed with a fork. Transfer to a blender (or save use a stick blender – I couldn’t get mine to work, boo hoo!) and purée until smooth.
Return the purée to the pot and add the milk. Heat gently; patience and stirring are key. Once it’s heated through, add the miso: the easiest way to do this is to make a slurry with the miso and a ladleful of soup, and add this back to the pot. Stir and season with salt and white pepper to taste.
I ate this on its own, garnished with a bit of parsley and some sesame oil.
Makes 2-3 servings, depending on how hungry you are. It’s also gluten-free, for those who are so inclined.