Creamy Sunchoke Soup

Yield: About 6 servings
Preparation time: A little over an hour (15 minutes of work)

A native American vegetable, the sunchoke (sometimes called Jerusalem artichoke) is actually the tuber of a pretty yellow sunflower. The tuber itself is knobby and homely, but has a lovely, mild flavor and a fantastic crisp texture when eaten raw. It cooks very nicely in many ways: baked, boiled and mashed, or sautéed. In this soup, the sunchokes are cooked until they are very soft, then puréed . Texture is critical here, so make sure you get it really smooth. (A good blender will do this better than a food processor.)

1 1/2 pounds sunchokes
1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil
2 cups minced onion
1 teaspoon salt (possibly more, to taste)
4 cups water
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Croutons (optional)
Mild paprika for the top
  1. Peel the sunchokes, or just scrub them really well with a stiff brush, and chop them coarsely.
  2. Melt the butter or heat the oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion and salt, and stir well. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring a few times. You want the onion to get very soft, but not brown.
  3. Stir in the sunchokes, cover again, and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat way down, cover, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the sunchokes are tender enough to be pierced easily with a fork. (Sunchokes tend to cook unevenly, so test more than one to make sure they are all very soft.)
  5. Purée bit by bit in a blender, adding the buttermilk in batches as you purée. Return to a clean pot, add white pepper to taste, and adjust salt, if necessary.
  6. Heat very gently (don't boil ), and serve hot, topped with a few croutons, if desired, and a dusting of mild paprika to give it a finished look.
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