I love soup—well, most kinds—especially in the cold winter of Jerusalem. So far I have made chicken vegetable, french onion, pareve vegetable and creamy pureed Jerusalem artichoke soups.
Jerusalem artichokes are by far the most interesting. In North America, they are called sunchokes. Sunchokes are a species of sunflower; the elongated tubers resemble ginger root.
Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans cultivated H. tuberosus as a food source. The tubers persist for years after being planted, so that the species expanded its range from central North America to the eastern and western regions. Early European colonists learned of this, and sent tubers back to Europe, where it became popular and naturalized there. Sunchokes later gradually fell into obscurity in North America, but attempts to market them commercially have been successful in the late 1900s and early 2000s.
The tuber contains about 2% protein, no oil, and little starch. It is rich in the carbohydrate inulin. Tubers stored for any length of time convert their inulin into its component, fructose. Jerusalem artichokes have an underlying sweet taste because of the fructose, which is about one and a half times as sweet as sucrose. They have also been reported as a folk remedy for diabetes.
Despite one of its names, the Jerusalem artichoke has no relationship to Jerusalem, and it is not a type of artichoke, though the two are distantly related as members of the daisy family. The origin of the “Jerusalem” part of the name is uncertain. Italian settlers in the United States called the plant girasole, the Italian word for sunflower, because of its familial relationship to the garden sunflower. Over time, the name girasole in southern Italian dialects may have been changed to Jerusalem In other words, English speakers would have corrupted “girasole artichoke” (meaning, “sunflower artichoke”) to Jerusalem artichoke. Another explanation for the name is that the Puritans, when they came to the New World, named the plant with regard to the “New Jerusalem” they believed they were creating in the wilderness. Also, various other names have been applied to the plant. Sunchoke, a name by which it is still known today, was invented in the 1960s by Frieda Caplan, a produce wholesaler who was trying to revive the plant’s appeal.
The artichoke part of the Jerusalem artichoke’s name comes from the taste of its edible tuber. Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer, sent the first samples of the plant to France, noting its taste was similar to that of an artichoke.
Cream of Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
8-10 Jerusalem artichokes
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 cups water
½ cup milk or non-dairy creamer
4 teaspoons pareve chicken soup powder
1 tablespoon dry chives
salt and pepper to taste
1. Slice artichokes into ¼-inch thick slices. Heat butter or margarine
in a saucepan.
2. Add sliced artichokes, water, milk, soup powder, chives, salt and pepper.
3. Bring to a boil.
4. Cook 15 minutes.
5. Pour soup into a blender and blend.
6. Return to saucepan and heat.
This recipe is adapted from Craig Claiborne. I deleted 1 cup finely chopped leeks, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, 2 ½ tablespoons flour and 2 cups coarsely chopped watercress from his recipe.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, author, compiler/editor of 9 kosher cookbooks (working on a 10th) and food writer for North American Jewish publications, who lives in Jerusalem where she leads weekly walks of the Jewish food market, Machaneh Yehudah, in English, and writes the restaurant features for Janglo.net, the oldest, largest website for English speakers.