Sunday, February 5, 2012

Farmers´ Market in winter, a very cold one too: Warm up with Salsify Cream Soup

Rustic luxury: black roots of salsify (German: Schwarzwurzel)
My walk-around last Saturday at the farmers market was brightened by long awaited snow or rather small flakes in the air that turned into wet drops on the street.  I was happy to see the winter finally arrive to the city. This week the cold from Siberia reached Switzerland and temperatures dived to the freezing -10°C in town and over -20°C in the mountains. Only a third of the usual stands were out trading in this cold, all wrapped into temporary plastic “walls”. Luckily for me snow has stayed in town and I am fully enjoying this until it lasts. You see, I am the exception to the general rule here and don’t go skiing or snowboarding in the mountains. In the Alps there is plenty of snow of course and much colder too, but for me winter is not winter if there is no snow or minimum a week of minus temperatures down in town.
Even though I like winter I don’t envy my friends in Estonia who are fighting -30s °Celsius this week. The cars won’t start, those living in houses with own wood heating have to heat and heat to keep the temperature at 13°C !!! Hang in there!!

My basic tips on how not to freeze completely in -30°C:
-wear a hat, gloves (sometimes two pairs) and plenty of layers
-wear lamb wool, cotton jumper is not warm
-breathe through the nose, occasionally rub your nose and cheeks
-go out only if really necessary and then walk fast
-when back inside and not really feeling your toes and fingers, warm up your fingers by keeping your hands under your arms, take off the socks and warm your feet against a family member’s warm body. Putting your feet against the heating will be painful! Luke warm water is another alternative to get life back in the limbs.

Soup will warm up the inside with added benefits. Cooking it will heat up the kitchen, you could use up some simple ingredients from the fridge (an onion or some bacon, a can of tomatoes), the freezer (peas maybe?) and the cupboard (lentils, a bay leaf), it has less calories and is easier to digest given the circumstances of being forced to inside activities and spending less calories.

Back to the winter market…
…Dreaming of a hot bowl of soup I was on the look-out for salsify, also known as winter asparagus or poor man’s asparagus because of the taste and their similar diuretic effects. In German it is called Scwarzwurzel and its name in Estonian is a similar translation meaning black root or mustjuur. In English it is to my surprise and puzzlement also known as oyster plant or vegetable oyster. Hmm, why do the German speakers associate salsify with asparagus and the English speaking world finds it similar to oysters? I taste rather asparagus than oysters. Not sure if it has anything to do with the fact that I live in Switzerland where oysters are rare to form strong taste memories about. Still one commonality exists, both cultures compare this from outside not quite appetising root to something rather luxurious.

You won’t find salsify in a supermarket in the Swiss capital...yet. It is a niche vegetable, quite popular amongst the fans of country food or occasionally on offer in top restaurants.

Keep raw salsify in vinegar water

How to easily peel salsify
Peeling the raw roots with a knife is tiresome and the peeled vegetables must be immediately put in water with some vinegar or lemon juice to avoid the browning. An easy way to peel the black root is to wash off the soil and cook it in boiling salt water for 10-15 minutes. Now it is as easy to peel as a cooked carrot or potato. Pull off the peel and cut out the eyes with a small  knife.

Cream of Salsify Recipe

500g salsify
0.5l chicken broth or water + 1 cube of bouillon
Bay leaf
10 cm white leek cut in 1 cm length
2 dl milk
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
2 leaves of green leek
Cooking oil
1 small chorizo picante (optional)

Bring the broth to boil, add the peeled salsify cut into smaller pieces, the bay leaf, white part of the leek and cook for 15-20 minutes till the roots are soft.
Purée with the hand mixer or blender and return into the pan. Add the milk to get the desired thickness of the soup. Stir in the crème fraîche and season to taste.

Garnish with leek julienne and spicy chorizo

Cut the leek greens into thin julienne. Heat the oil in the pan and throw in the leek. Sizzle the leeks for a few minutes until crisp but not burnt and scoop out onto kitchen paper.

If you prefer a heartier meal, cook some rings of chorizo picante or some sliced bacon in a separate pan and add on top.
Salsify cream soup with crispy leek and chorizo