Last year, I read so much about the little Sunchoke that I grew overwhelmed with joy when they finally appeared at the market. I bought a bunch and made some hearty soup that whisked away cold days. The sunchoke is hearty, sweet and not only tastes great raw, but is a great substitute for the potato.
Over the holidays I was around San Francisco visiting family. My uncle is taking a Master Gardening class and over the years built a substantial garden on his property. It is one that I am extremely jealous of and if he happened to have an avocado tree I would seriously consider moving in. Still, it does include blueberry and raspberry bushes, plum trees and strawberries all for my grandmother to make jams from (nothing but fruit and sugar, not even water she'll proudly tell you multiple times), tons of nasturtium flowers (that my uncle says proliferate like weeds), herbs of all kinds, artichokes, sunflowers, grape vines, tomatoes, a massive worm farm for compost, roses, a myer lemon tree and sunchokes.
He showed me around his garden saying most of what he has is just for play: he plants things and watches how they grow, rarely harvesting anything. One morning, I nabbed one of the last non-flowered artichokes for myself and boiled it up. I don't think there is anything more tasty and satisfying than eating something straight from a garden. He showed me the sunchoke bin, telling me they grew so robustly that the bin almost burst. He dug some up to show me there was literally wall-to-wall sunchokes growing underneath the dirt.
The next day while sauerkraut and ham was being served, I ran out to the garden and grabbed a handful of sunchokes and clipped some lavender leaves. I sliced the sunchokes thin and sauteed them until crisp with lots of butter, garlic and the lavender. My grandmother and mother were both pleasantly surprised at this previous unknown vegetable and refused to share them with anyone. I was pleasantly surprised at the mild taste of the lavender with the sunchokes.
My uncle gave me a bag of sunchokes to take home and plant in my own (pathetic in comparison) bucket garden. They are perfect because from the outset they appear to be weeds-- perfect in a city where old ladies steel my tomatoes and chicken wire. They are safely hibernating and will hopefully produce well come harvest next fall.
In the meantime, it's difficult to let a bag of fresh organic sunchokes go untouched. I made this salad for dinner the other day and D surprisingly applauded it (when I initially told him the ingredients he said the salad sounded like "weird girly veggie mush"). I'm not totally sure I know what that classifies as (I think zucchini is on the "veggie mush" list though), but once he ate this he assured me he would eat it again-- especially the sunchokes!
This is a visually stunning winter salad. It is hearty and really shows off that winter food can be just as beautiful as summer food. It also has fabulous texture layers and an interesting array of flavors. If you are dexterous you can cut down on cook time by sauteing the mushroom at the same time as frying the sunchok (since the sunchokes only take about 2 minutes in the oil).
Serves 2. Active time= about 30 minutes.
* 1 cup green beans, cut into 1 inch spears
*1 head endive, sliced thin
* 1 yellow pepper, left whole
* 1 portabello mushroom, sliced into 1/2 inch shoots
* 1 cup vegetable oil (more or less depending on pan)
* 1 sunchoke, well scrubbed and sliced into 1/8 inch rounds
* 1 tablespoon goat cheese
* 4-6 grape tomatoes
1) On the serving plate/ bowl, arrange green beans and endive.
2) Prep: Set a paper bag in a bowl aside. Set paper towels on a plate aside.
3) Roast the yellow pepper: Using long metal tongs, set pepper over burner set on medium-high flame. Rotate the pepper until all sides are blackened, about 6 minutes total (this only works with gas stoves as an open flame is needed. Another option is to dry roast the pepper on a non-stick pan until blackened). Place the pepper into the paper bag and seal. Set aside. This completes the pepper's cooking.
4) In a small pan on medium heat, saute the portabello mushroom. While the mushroom is cooking, put the vegetable oil in a medium sauce pan on high heat. While oil is warming, finish the mushrooms, cooking until reduced and darkened, about 8 minutes. Arrange the mushrooms on the serving plate.
5) When the oil is hot, fry the sunchokes quickly, removing when they turn brown around the edges. About 2-3 minutes total should turn them crisp. Remove from oil, place on the napkin covered plate and sprinkle lightly with salt.
6) Remove the yellow (now blackened) pepper from the paper bag. The skin will begin to flake off. For fast removal, place whole pepper under lukewarm water, gently rubbing ashes from the pepper. Dry off and slice into 1/2 inch spears, add to serving plate.
7) Sprinkle grape tomatoes over salad arrangement. Add goat cheese in a single lump. Spear sunchokes into the goat cheese to allow the sunchoke chips to stand verticle. Top salad with olive oil, a light sprinkle of salt and a spritz of lemon (optional). Any more dressing would ruin the flavors in this salad.