Once upon a time, Husband went on a retreat at the local eco-village for a month, and came back raving about sochan. Sochan this, sochan that, let’s get some sochan in the yard, etc.
And I’ll bet that most of you, like me, had no idea what he was talking about. We’re gonna change that today. Let’s get into it.
Sochan: What is it?
We did end up planting sochan the first year we moved to this property, but I’ll admit this is the first year we actually ate some of it. We kept forgetting it was there, hiding in our tall grass and among wildflowers in the front yard. Our well-meaning neighbor, who mows the road-side strip of the property, even mowed one of our sochan plants down to a nub, thinking it was a weed (happily, this actually helped it grow better)!
But what is it? Have you seen it?
Sochan has been well-known among the Cherokee for ages as a super-nutritious diet staple. The name itself comes from the Cherokee name so-cha-ni.
Sochan is in the same family as sunflowers, and if you wait until the summer and fall for the blooms to come out, you’ll see why: sochan flowers resemble black-eyed susans, and are a type of coneflower. You’ll find it most often near water and roadsides, since it digs rich, wet soil.
Nutrition and Flavor
Sochan greens are on par with spinach, kale, and other hearty greens. While sochan contains some of the same vitamins as kale (Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and folic acid), it rocks the mineral category, with more magnesium, iron, calcium, and other vital minerals to keep you going.
The younger the greens, the milder the flavor. If you harvest sochan in early spring, you can eat the greens raw in salads or however you might use a hearty green. Otherwise, as the plant matures, the greens and stems toughen and require cooking in some form.
And the taste? I’d describe it as herbal and almost floral, and very mild, with no bitterness in the young leaves (very unlike its cousin, the dandelion).
Where can I get it?
First of all, sochan does grow over much of the United States, but not everywhere. It can be found in the Appalachians and along the Northeast and Midwest, even stretching to Montana. However, it likes shade and a good source of water, so hotter, drier climates (the Deep South, Pacific, etc.) may be out of luck.
So, let’s say you do in an area where sochan grows. Yay! If you’re foraging, do all of the responsible foraging things, like cross-referencing books and seasoned foragers and not relying on Google images to identify a plant. It does have look-alikes that are not edible, so be careful. Also, be a good neighbor and don’t take more than what you need, or the whole plant – always leave most of the plant intact so it has a chance to grow and flourish, and give others a chance to try this tasty green.
But, unlike a lot of tasty, often over-harvested wild edibles (I’m looking at you, ramps), sochan is very easily grown at home. We got our sochan from a super local (like, literally less than a few houses down) purveyor of plants who specializes in growing native species. You can check out your local garden shop, or even order seeds online. Find a good, shady spot on your property, provide plenty of good compost, and get growing! It’s a wonderful thing to grow that’s not a lawn.
As I mentioned before, you can eat the young leaves and stems in early spring raw. Older, tougher summer and fall leaves and stems can still be eaten as long as they’re cooked long enough (the older the sochan, the longer the required cooking). You can cook sochan as you would any hearty green, like kale or collards – frying and braising in a good fat are excellent preparations.
And speaking of frying, as promised, I have a recipe for you: sochan pakoras! If you’re not familiar with a pakora, it’s basically a bundle of veggies mixed with chickpea flour dough, deep fried, and thoroughly enjoyed by our family, including Baby Homesteader. That baby can put away some pakoras.
Ahem. Here’s the recipe. It’s adapted from our Indian cookbook, India Cookbook by Pushpesh Pant, and as the cover states, it’s literally the only book on Indian food we’ll ever need. Now get frying!
Chickpea flour gives pakoras a nutty flavor and very crunchy texture. You can use wheat flour in place of the chickpea flour, but the flavor and texture will be different, and the pakoras will not have as much protein.
you will need:
- 1 ½ – 2 c chickpea flour
- ¾ tsp baking powder
- ¾-1 tsp chili powder
- ¼ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1-2 tsp chopped cilantro (optional)
- 1-2 jalapeno peppers, de-seeded and chopped (optional)
- 1 large onion, sliced thin (about 2 c)
- 3 c sochan leaves, rinsed and roughly chopped
- water for the batter
- oil for deep frying
- Mix together the flour, baking powder, chili powder, turmeric, salt, cilantro, and hot peppers in a large bowl. Fold in the onion and sochan, coating well. Add water, starting with about ½ c and adding about a tablespoon at a time, until you get a thick batter (similar to pancake batter).
- Heat enough oil for deep frying (about 2-4 inches) in a large Dutch oven, cast iron skillet, or other heavy-bottomed pan with high sides, until a bit of batter dropped into the oil sizzles and browns within a few seconds. Add pakora batter by the spoonful (a cookie or muffin scoop works wonderfully here, depending on how big you want your pakoras to be), working in several batches as not to crowd the pan. Fry, flipping at least once, until the pakoras are golden brown and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per pakora. Transfer hot pakoras to a paper towel-lined plate. Eat hot.