They maybe ugly, but they are delicious
Anna May Kinney
Sunchokes, known since the 17th century as Jerusalem artichokes, have not been quick to catch on. It must be there appearance, because as soon as people taste their unique flavour they are ready for more. Once sold only in specialty stores, now many local grocery chains are willing to carry this unfamiliar vegetable.
You can find them sold loose or packed in one-pound plastic bags. Look for clean, firm tuber without blemishes, their color should resemble a gingerroot, or be a dull brown. Avoid ones that have a tinge of green, show signs of mold or sprouting.
In actuality this is a type of sunflower, explaining it's more common name "sunchoke". Being native to North America, it is believed that the French explorer Champlain tasted this vegetable in the early 1600's while he was in Massachusetts; where Native Americans were cultivating it. Years later after they were introduced into Europe, the name Jerusalem was added, maybe from a corruption of the Italian word for
sunflower, "girasole", which means turning toward the sun.
The sunchoke is actually a tuber, or underground stem, that resembles a small knobby potato or a piece of gingerroot. It has a sweet, almost nutty taste and a crisp texture that is quite distinctive. A versatile vegetable, it can be eaten raw or cooked, and added to all types of dishes.
Like potatoes and other tubers, the Jerusalem artichoke stores carbohydrates, but most of them are in the form of inulin, a sugar that can sometimes cause flatulence. (If you have never sampled Jerusalem artichoke, you should eat it in small amounts until you are able to determine how your body will react to it.) The vegetable is an incomparable source of iron, almost on a par with meats, yet without any fat content. The
inulin is also a valuable source of fructose for diabetics and its carbohydrates do not convert to sugar in the body, so they can be eaten with abandon by the diet-conscious and by diabetics.
Sunchokes should be well scrubbed with a vegetable brush, maintaining their outer layer, as much of their nutrient value lies just beneath their thin, edible skin. Immediately immerse peeled or cut-up sunchokes in cold water acidulated with lemon juice or vinegar, or their flesh will discolor. If you are boiling or blanching the tubers, you may remove the skin after cooking; it will peel or rub off easily. Do be aware,
however, that when cooked unpeeled, the flesh of sunchokes will darken because of their iron content.
Sunchokes can be prepared and served in many of the same ways as potatoes--and can be used in place of parsnips and turnips in some recipes. Whatever cooking method you choose, check frequently for doneness; sunchokes can turn mushy in seconds once they reach the point of tenderness. Never prepare them in aluminum or iron pans, as their white flesh will turn an icky green.
Baking: Baked sunchokes are delicious. Place whole tubers in a baking pan; brush lightly with oil, and bake in a 350°F oven until tender. Or parboil sliced sunchokes for faster baking. Cooking times: for whole, 30 to 60 minutes; for sliced, parboiled, 25 to 30 minutes.
Here are a couple recipes to try out on your new vegetable.
JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE GRATIN
This hearty side dish looks a lot richer than it really is. It makes a good accompaniment to roasts and other meats.
1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1/2 teaspoon each, grated nutmeg and powdered ginger
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Butter flavor spray
1 pound Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed or peeled and cut into very thin slices
1 pound sweet potatoes cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1/2 cup shredded Jarlsberg cheese
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Put butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft, a few minutes. Add flour and stir until well incorporated. Add milk and whisk until mixture thickens and is smooth with no flour taste, about 5 minutes. Season with nutmeg, ginger, salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 2-quart baking dish with butter-flavor spray. Alternately layer Jerusalem artichokes and sweet potatoes, seasoning each lightly with salt and pepper.
Pour cream sauce over, cover with foil and bake about 55 minutes until vegetables are tender. Raise heat to 500. Mix cheese with breadcrumbs and parsley. Remove foil, sprinkle gratin with cheese mixture and spray with butter-flavor spray. Return to the oven and bake until top is nicely browned and crusty, 5 to 10 minutes. This serves 6 to 8.
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
1 pound Jerusalem artichokes
Juice of 1/2 lemon
4 tablespoons butter
1 leek, white part only, sliced into 1/2inch pieces
1 carrot, sliced into 1/2inch rounds
3 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade) or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
Brush and scrub Jerusalem artichokes under cold running water. Cut them into 1/4inch slices and toss with lemon juice. Melt butter in a 4quart stainless steel saucepan. Add leek, carrot and Jerusalem artichokes with the lemon juice. Cover and cook over gentle heat for 20 minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups stock or water, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cover and simmer for another 25 minutes. When cooked, remove from the heat
and puree the soup with an additional 1/2 cup stock, or water and cream. Pass puree through a drum sieve. Return soup to a clean saucepan and reheat.
Ladle soup into warm soup bowls and dust each portion with fresh grated nutmeg, this recipe makes 4 servings.