Palestine soup has nothing whatever to do with Palestine. It seems to have been given that name because it’s made with Jerusalem artichokes. Jerusalem artichokes have nothing whatever to do with Jerusalem and aren't artichokes. Anything that odd just has to be good. In fact, it’s one of my favourite vegetable soups and it so happens that it’s also very easy to make and, thankfully, low in fat.
I first came across Palestine soup in cookery books dating back to the early 1900s, but I think the dish is a fair bit older than that. Most recipes combine the Jerusalem artichokes with turnips or potatoes, which maintain the creamy white colour of the finished soup. I like to add carrot, which provides a nice touch of sweetness but does change the colour. (Unless you can find a heritage variety of white carrot).
A few years ago, Mark Hix published a Palestine soup recipe with some hazelnuts added, inspired by Auguste Escoffier’s ‘Purée de Topinambour’. The hazelnuts enhance the flavour of the Jerusalem artichokes beautifully, so I've borrowed that idea. Clearly Escoffier knew what he was talking about – as does Mark Hix, of course.
This will make 3 hearty lunch portions or will serve 4 to 6 as a starter.
½ onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, medium-sized
1 heaped tbsp uncooked basmati or long grain rice
300 ml vegetable stock
150 ml milk (semi-skimmed is fine)
300 g Jerusalem artichokes, prepared weight
Small handful of shelled hazelnuts
A little lemon juice
Add a small amount of oil to a pan and cook the onion gently for at least five minutes until it starts to soften without colouring. Meanwhile, peel and slice the carrots finely. Add the carrot and rice to the pan and pour over the stock and milk. Cover the pan, bring to a simmer and let it gently bubble away for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel and slice the Jerusalem artichokes quite finely. Place the slices into water with a little lemon juice added to prevent discolouration. At the end of 20 minutes simmering, add the Jerusalem artichokes to the pan, season with a little salt and pepper (white pepper is best to maintain the colour), cover the pan again and bring back to a simmer. Keep the pot simmering for another 10 – 15 minutes or until the carrots and artichokes are tender.
Meanwhile, lightly toast the hazelnuts. You can do this in a dry pan over a low heat or simply place them in a medium oven for 4 or 5 minutes. Be careful to avoid burning them.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool a little. Add the toasted hazelnuts and liquidise. If you're being very fussy, you can pass the soup through a fine sieve, but I don't usually get that fussy.
Adjust the seasoning and add a dash of lemon juice if it needs it. Croutons are good with this soup, if you fancy them, and a sprinkling of parsley does no harm either. Many recipes finish this soup by adding cream. That does give it a touch of luxury, but I really don't think the soup needs it and I prefer to keep it low in fat.
By the way, Jerusalem artichoke plants are rather like spindly, slightly unsuccessful sunflowers. They’re easy to grow but, since the plants can be very large (10 – 15 feet tall is not unusual), you’ll need a fair bit of space.