Sunchokes started popping up a few weeks ago at the markets. You might mistake them for ginger at first glance, but they are the farthest thing from that other tuber. Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, have a flavor mildly reminiscent to artichokes and are a great source of iron, potassium and thiamin. They are also low in calories and high in fiber. Inulin, the primary carbohydrate in sunchokes, minimally affects blood sugar and is recommended as a diabetic-friendly carbohydrate.
Jerusalem artichokes were first cultivated by the Native Americans. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain found them in Cape Cod in the early 1600’s and took them back to France. By the mid-1600s, the sunchoke had become a very common ingredient in Europe and the Americas. The French in particular were especially fond of this little tuber, which reached its peak popularity at the turn of the nineteenth century.
You may come across a few different types of sunchokes, slightly different shapes and colors. Generally they are knobby with a creamy tan to pinkish skin. The inside will be creamy to white. Look for sunchokes are firm to the touch without black spots or blemishes. Spongy or soft is not good eats! Sunchokes will keep in the produce drawer of the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. Place a piece of parchment paper between them, in a container, to stave off moisture.
Sunchokes can be roasted in a hot oven (like potatoes) with olive oil and finished with a drizzle of a good balsamic; or eaten raw, thinly shaved in a salad.
I came across a super simple salad in Mario Batali’s cookbook Molto Gusto. After taking the zest off an orange I supremed it. Mario made a gremolata with finely minced parsley, garlic walnut and the zest. I skipped the garlic in my gremolata, and used the residual juice combined with sherry vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper for the dressing. The sunchokes were sliced super thin on my mandoline and tossed with a little lemon juice to stave off oxidation. The finished salad was just beautiful.
Last year I wrote about them, and also created a soup using a combination of sunchokes and celery root called Jerusalem Artichoke and Celery Root Soup with Pomegranate.
With my first soup version I left the skin on, but this time I decided to peel them. Remember sunchokes oxidize when exposed to air, due to their high iron content, just like apples or potatoes. To prevent this, toss with lemon juice before cooking. I also read, in my sunchoke research, that to keep the overall soup from turning gray you can add a pinch of cream of tartar or an acidic liquid to the sunchoke cooking water. I didn’t really bother doing that, and the color looked just fine. I did decide to use fennel seed and pear, as I had it on hand, and the soup was just lovely.
To add a little interest and texture I garnished this one with hazelnuts, a really good fruity, thick balsamic and a couple of pomegranate seeds. If you follow me you will notice that garnishing soups and pastas are a big thing for me. It’s just a little more pleasing to the palate to have a burst of tanginess and a nice crunch, when appropriate. Click this link to see my recipe for: Sunchoke, Pear and Hazelnut Soup.
So the next time you spot sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes, in the produce aisle, grab a few and give them a try. You won’t be disappointed.