Sunday, November 20, 2011

Meet Stachys, a forgotten famine vegetable or an expensive gourmet weed with tubers?

My recent trip to the farmers´market made me curious about little root type things that reminded me of the Michelin man in the miniature form. Turns out this is stachys affinis, sometimes known as Chinese artichoke or in France crosnes. The roots are actually tubers that can be eaten raw or cooked. On popular request about my visits to the market I decided to experiment.
Stachys affinis, chinese artichoke - eatable tubers

First, I must say, these whitish or ivory colour tubers are not cheap…at least not at my market. Searching on the internet I happened on a site that described stachys as famine food. When all else fails, eat stachys. It almost feels like when things are hopelessly bad, let’s get a bottle of the most expensive champagne and enjoy the moment. What an interesting paradox…perhaps this is the most expensive weed grown under bio-certificate and sold to gourmands for a fortune. For this handful I paid almost 5 francs. The same money can buy me 2.5kg of non-bio potatoes or 1.5kg of bio potatoes. Both are tubers.
5 Francs for this handful of stachys...perhaps because it is Bio

At home I tried them raw. Crisp bite, not chewy, no strong taste of its own, indeed a bit nutty in taste if anything. Not bad, but not too impressive either.
Chinese artichoke or crosnes can be eaten raw

Since the guy at the market explained that besides raw I can cook them with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper, I followed his advice. They don’t need to be peeled, just washed.

I prepared a salad with Roman lettuce and for the dressing sautéed the stachys tubers in some olive oil, added small bacon strips, salt, pepper and lime juice. Mixed the sauce on the pan and poured on top of the lettuce. Pomegranate to garnish and add colour. Ready.
Sautéed chinese artichoke in a salad

Some recipes advise to pre-boil the stachys before sautéing. Since it can be eaten raw, I figured no boiling required. The cooked stachys maintained its crisp bite although softer than raw. The taste is soft, nutty, allows various flavour combinations in salads, sautéed vegetables or stir-fry dishes. I might experiment just once more as a wok stir-fry...after the next pay-day.
The literature I found mentioned that stachys is easy to grow and yields circa 1 kg per square meter and is good for digestion.
Judge yourself.