Disclaimer: There follows a recipe both life-enhancing and life threatening. This blog and its author are not responsible for any injuries sustained should you make this soup.
I got a bit over-excited at GUM bazar last week and so my haul home from Yerevan included jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) and chestnuts, among other more mundane fall vegetables. I made a rather fancy soup for last night’s dinner–the so-called ‘family dinner’ we three Goris-based Peace Corps volunteers enjoy together every Wednesday.
The first job was to prepare the chestnuts. The recipe I used for reference was very specific: make an x-shaped cut on the rounded side of every shell. Apparently there is a special knife manufactured just for this purpose, but I don’t have one, and I don’t know anyone who does, either in Armenia, or in any other part of the world. So it was out with the Fuxwell (no wonder it advertises its intimate charms. It may have staying power in the boudoir, but in the kitchen it starts off keen (hah!) but quickly dulls. It is not the kind of knife a girl should marry…) I did my best to inflict damage on the chestnuts as they skittered away from the knife, and thought I’d x-ed them all–until I put them in the hot oven. Within minutes, the stove was exploding, and terrifying gunshot filled the air. Aleta peered nervously around the kitchen door. With the almost-everyday news of gun-toting crazies in the United States, could she be blamed for fearing there was an American running rampant with a rifle on her own first floor? I opened the stove door to demonstrate what was causing the noise and we both ducked just in time as a piece of furred, leathery coating flew at us in fury. I turned off the oven, cleared up the shrapnel and salvaged what I could of the chestnuts. The Jerusalem Artichokes were much more cooperative. In the end, the soup was delicious, but I recommend you heat the bowls before serving. Here, on a chill autumn evening, it cooled down on the journey from pot to table. Really, it should be eaten piping hot.
Sunchoke and Chestnut Soup (makes about 6 large bowls)
You will need:
7-10 knobbles of sunchoke/jerusalem artichoke
About 30 chestnuts
A large tub of sour cream/smetna
Three fat cloves of garlic
Stock–vegetable, chicken or beef
Olive oil, salt and pepper, cilantro or other herb
Bread for serving
A good knife
An oven and baking tray
A large saucepan
A stick blender–or blender
Soup bowls and spoons
What to do
Heat the oven to really quite hot
Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a soup bowl and add a little salt and pepper and then roll the sunchokes in the oil. Place them on the baking tray and roast for 12-15 minutes, until soft.
Mark each chestnut with an X on the fat, curved side, being sure to pierce the skin. This is hard work, but don’t stint. Your life could depend on it.
Put the chestnuts on the baking tray (the sunchokes can be cooling now) and in the oven. Stand well back. After about 10 minutes, or as soon as the banging subsides, take the chestnuts from the oven. Chestnut meat should be peeping out of the X like hair from an old man’s ear. Peel the chestnuts while they are still warm.
Chop the onion finely and mince the garlic. Fry in a little olive oil until soft. Use a pot or pan that will be big enough to hold all of the soup. Roughly chop the sunchokes and chestnuts and add them to the mix. Add at least two pints of stock and give it 10 minutes to simmer.
Reduce the heat and add the smetna, stirring it into the mix. Allow the pot to cool, then whizz the mixture in a blender. It should have the consistency and color of thinnish porridge.
Pop next door and buy some warm, fresh-baked bread. (What? Not everyone has a bakery next door? Shame…)
Return the soup to the pot and heat thoroughly. Heat the serving bowls in the oven at the same time.
Pour the soup into the bowls. Add any little shards or crumbles of chestnut left over from the chopping process, and a leaf or two of a green herb.
Enjoy with friends. Eat with bread. Drink red wine. Follow up with an appley dessert and be glad it is fall.