SUNCHOKES! SAY WHAT?
The name might sound familiar from fall and winter menus, but what exactly is a sunchoke? Also known as a Jerusalem artichoke, a sunchoke is the edible root of a sunflower plant. While this tasty tuber is native to North America and has been around for longer than the European colonists, it didn’t gain modern popularity until the last 15 years or so.
As for its name? Sunchokes taste similar to artichokes, and sunflower + artichoke… you get the idea. But despite its Jerusalem artichoke moniker, the sunchoke has no relation to Israel. Girasole is the Italian word for sunflower, which is what settlers called the plant and its tuber, and many believe that girasole may have been mistaken for Jerusalem, which ultimately stuck.
Sunchokes are filled with potassium and iron, and are the perfect way to #GetReal—experimenting with foods you’ve never tried, and eating more of a varied, plant-based diet. The sunchoke’s delicate artichoke-like taste is accompanied by a subtle sweetness, making it perfect for creamy soups, crispy chips, or simple roasting. Sorry, potato, there’s a new tuber in town! Plus it’s in season right now in warmer climates, and is gracing many a New York menu from farmers down south.
But don’t say we didn’t warn you—sunchokes can cause gastric upset if eaten in excess. They are high in inulin, a soluble dietary fiber made up of fructose, meaning they’re sweet, but don’t elevate blood sugar levels. Which is great! But because inulin isn’t broken down by digestive enzymes, you’ll be uncomfortable if you go on a sunchoke-candy binge. Moderate, and you should be just fine!
HOW TO CHOOSE & STORE
Select sunchokes that are smooth and firm, without soft spots or discolorations. Store them in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge for up to a couple of weeks.
HOW TO PREP
Simply rinse with cool water to remove any dirt, and pat dry. You can, but there’s no need to remove the skin! For a quick preparation, simply cut into pieces, toss with olive oil, salt and herbs, and roast at 400 degrees on a sheet pan for 20-30 minutes until caramelized and tender.
EAT & DRINK
SAUTÉED JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES by Jamie Oliver
1 lb 6 oz Jerusalem artichokes
a few bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 splash white wine vinegar
To serve 4, you will need 1 lb 6 oz of Jerusalem artichokes. Peel them, then cut them into chunks.
Place them in an oiled frying pan and fry on a medium heat until golden on both sides. Then add a few bay leaves, 2 cloves of garlic, a splash of white wine vinegar, and some salt and pepper. Place a lid on top.
After about 20 to 25 minutes they will have softened up nicely and you can remove the lid and the bay leaves. Continue cooking for a couple of minutes to crisp the artichoke slices up one last time, then serve straight away. Personally, I think they go well with both meat and fish and are particularly good in a plate of antipasti, or in soups or warm salads.
SUNCHOKE LEMONGRASS AND LEEK SOUP
by The Wimpy Vegetarian for Food52
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large leek, divided, sliced across the width in thin strips, white and light green parts only
4 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed, and minced
2 stalks lemongrass, smashed and cut in two to fit in the pot (they need to be easy to retrieve before pureeing the soup)
1 pound sunchokes
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Lemon zest to taste
1/2 teaspoon chives, minced
Thoroughly scrub the sunchokes to remove most of the skin, and slice 1/8″ thick. Soak them in lemon water to keep them from turning color.
Melt the butter in a soup pot and saute one-half of the leeks and all of the shallots, garlic, and lemongrass until the leeks and shallots are soft and the mixture is very aromatic (about 10-15 minutes).
Add the sunchokes and mix thoroughly. Cover the sunchokes with the leek-lemongrass mixture. Cook for another 5 minutes.
Add the broth and bring to a simmer until the sunchokes are tender (about 40 minutes). If you don’t have any broth, you can use water. Remove the lemongrass stalks and puree the soup in a blender until very smooth. Pour back into the soup pot and reheat. Add the cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add lemon zest to taste.
For a garnish, I fried the other half of the leek strips in olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice until they were fairly crispy. I topped the soup with a pinch of them and a few minced chives.