Although there are still three feet of snow on the ground and the temperatures are in the single digits, I know that in fewer weeks than I have fingers on my hands, spring will be here. Crocuses will be pushing up out of the ground, the snow will melt, and the trees will begin to reveal their perfect, little curled leaves.
In honor of the coming transition, here is a soup for early spring using two of its most generous gifts: chickweed and sunchokes.
Chickweed is the little plant shown below. Its botanical name is Stellaria media which invokes the flowers of the chickweed: little white stars that pop up in the midst of thick green leaves. Chickweed is one of my all time favorite herbs because to me, it tastes like spring.
This chickweed, I harvested from the Stone Coop Farm hoop houses. As you can see, it is happy and healthy living in the hoop house under several layers of protective plastic.
In the outdoors, chickweed will begin to pop up in early spring. Depending on where you live, this may be late February to early April. It thrives in moist, cool conditions with rich soil like your garden.
The second ingredient of today’s soup is the sunchoke. See it below on the right. Sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus) are also called Jerusalem Artichokes and are native to the United States. The sunchoke is the root of this tall, indigenous sunflower species. For native cultures, this plant was a spring staple. When the ground began to thaw in spring, the roots of last fall’s crop of Helianthus tuberosus would be dug and eaten while the people waited for the rest of the world awaken from its winter slumber. These days, there are still wild sunchokes about. There’s a big stand on the edge of the woods where I take Gertrude to walk. Also, lots of small organic farmers are growing them. So look to your farmer’s market or specialty grocery stores to get your hands on these little roots.
Sunchokes can be eaten raw like radishes, or they can be cooked. Boiling, mashing, roasting, and sauteing are all good methods for preparing sunchokes. For this soup, I roasted my sunchokes for extra flavor. Sunchokes are very high in the plant fiber inulin. Onions, leeks, and garlic are also high in inulin. This inulin is awesome microbe food for all the little bugs in your belly. However, some people don’t have enough microbes of the inulin-digesting kind, and as a result, sunchokes give them really bad gas. So, be warned.
To begin this soup, I made a light vegetable broth from things I had around: 2 stalks celery, 4 small smashed onions with their skins (for extra flavor), 1 carrot, 1 bay leaf, 5 leaves of dried sage, and salt. This simmered for 45 minutes while the sunchokes were roasting resulted in a lovely, light vegetable broth much nicer than anything that you could buy.
While the stock was simmering and the roots were roasting, I boiled a handful of little potatoes in salted water and gently sauteed an onion with celery. Then, when everything was ready, I blended in batches, the stock,the sauteed onions, sunchokes, potatoes, big handfuls of chickweed, and a few cashews for creaminess in a blender. It resulted in this soup of the lightest green below which really does taste like spring. I hope you enjoy it.
A Soup for Spring: Sunchokes and Chickweed
4-6 cups vegetable stock
2 ribs celery
5 small potatoes
1 cup roasted sunchokes
3 cups chickweed
1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews
Salt and pepper to taste
Clean and roast the sunchokes in olive oil and salt at 400 degrees for approximately 30 minutes until soft and golden. Clean and boil small potatoes in a pot of salted water for approximately 20 minutes until soft. Gently saute onions and celery and a pinch of salt together in a pot until the onions are translucent. Combine in batches, the stock, sunchokes, potatoes, sauteed onions and celery, chickweed and cashews in a high powered blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. Taste and see if it needs more salt. Add as needed. Pour into a bowl and crack some fresh pepper over the soup. Enjoy.
* A note on creaminess. Although cashews are used in this recipe for a light creaminess, real cream is a great option as well especially if you have access to good, fresh cream. Instead of the cashews, add 1/4 cup of cream. Another way to add decadence to this soup would be to add a parmesan rind to the vegetable stock. This will add depth and richness.