Sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes, aren't pretty, but they sure are tasty. Although they look like ginger roots, these tubers are members of the sunflower family and are so named because of their slightly sweet, nutty taste that is reminiscent of artichokes.
Sunchokes were brought to Europe in 1605 when a French explorer named Samuel Champlain found them in Cape Cod. They are native to North America, not the Middle East, so there's some dispute as to why they are also called Jerusalem artichokes. One idea is that people called them "girasole," or "flower that looks towards the sun," which sounds like Jerusalem. Another idea is that European settlers relied on these tubers and called them food for the new Jerusalem.
No matter what you call them, sunchokes are a great source of Vitamin C and iron. They are also rich in inulin, a substance that turns into fructose when digested and is, to put it politely, really good for your digestive system. Cooking helps cut down on any socially undesirable effects though!
Look for: Firm, wrinkle free knobs that are free of sprouts. Some sunchokes may be smooth and really, that makes no difference from a bumpier one as far as taste is concerned. It just makes it easier to prepare if peeling.
Storage: Sunchokes can keep for up to two weeks when refrigerated.
Preparation: Sunchokes can be eaten raw and appreciated for their pleasant crunch, similar to water chestnuts. They may look intimidating, but you can treat them like you would a potato-- boil and use as a thickener for soups or mash them for a tasty side; bake or fry them; eat them skin on or peeled; or try roasting them (see recipe below.) One note though, if you peel them, add a little lemon juice to keep them from discoloring.
Personally, I love slicing sunchokes, leaving the skin on, and roasting them. They get crunchy, sweet and nutty and add wonderful texture, such as for this salad which you can serve as a first course for an early spring dinner party.
Roasted Sunchoke, Pear and Arugula Salad*
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Take 2 pounds of sunchokes and slice them crosswise, about 1/4 inch thick. Toss the sunchokes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Lay out the sunchokes on your prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 20-30 minutes, flipping the pieces over about halfway through cooking time, or until pieces are golden brown and crisped at the edges.
While sunchokes roast, whisk together 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil with 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, juice of half a lemon, 1 teaspoon of agave syrup, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss 1/4 inch thick slices of 2 ripe Anjou pears and 2 cups of baby arugula leaves in the prepared dressing. Add roasted sunchokes and toss to combine. Plate individually or serve on a platter for a buffet or family style dinner.
Serves 4 to 6.
*Your vegan friends will rejoice, as this salad is totally animal product free!