As winter sets in, you may have seen these gnarly roots at your farmers’ market or grocery store, under the name “sunchoke” or “jerusalem artichoke,” and wondered: What in the heck do I do with these?
Sunchokes have become one of my favorite vegetables. I’ve known them better as jerusalem artichokes, having had them pureed or creamed in soups in San Francisco restaurants. But my two favorite ways to cook them at home highlight their nutty flavor and refreshingly crunchy texture: a hash with Brussels sprouts and bacon and crisp chips.
See below for recipes plus information on sunchokes’ history, nutritional value, seasonality, and how to grow your own.
SUNCHOKE, BRUSSELS SPROUT & BACON HASH - Recipe here
My Notes on the Recipe
1 -- Plunk sunchokes into a bowl of cold water right after slicing them. Rinse three times in cold water, then pat very dry. I didn’t do this, and the sunchokes discolored slightly
2 -- I used pancetta instead of bacon and skipped the green onion garnish and truffle oil drizzle
3 -- Instead, I did something less refined: I splashed hot sauce on top of my fried egg and hash. Yum
SUNCHOKE CHIPS - Recipe here
My Notes on the Recipe
1 -- Again, rinsing and patting very dry, explained in step 1, was critical. The farmer who sold me the sunchokes told me that if you don’t dry them thoroughly, they won’t crisp properly as chips
2 -- You can use a thermometer for the oil or just throw in a sunchoke or cube of bread to see if it starts frying -- if it does, the oil is ready; if it doesn’t, let it heat some more
3 -- You could start out with half the amount of salt and add more as needed. I found the full tablespoon a bit salty
4 -- If you’re feeling virtuous, you can bake the chips instead of frying them. Rinse and pat the sunchoke slices dry, toss with olive oil and a bit of salt, lay in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for 15-25 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Works equally well on foil in a toaster oven!
History and Nutritional Info
It turns out “sunchoke” is a more accurate moniker, as these tubers have no relation whatsoever to artichokes but are actually a perennial native to North America in the sunflower family. The theory I’ve read most frequently explaining why they were dubbed “jerusalem artichokes” is that “jerusalem” is a distortion of the plant’s Italian name,girasole, which means turning to the sun, and that the explorer Samuel de Champlain likened the flavor to artichokes back in the 1600s when introducing them in Europe. Not sure how those two were put together, but there you have it.
Because of their high productivity, sunchokes offered sustenance in times of famine, such as in the 1700s in Europe and during World War II.
Sunchokes are very rich in inulin, a carbohydrate linked with good intestinal health due to its prebiotic (bacteria promoting) properties. Inulin breaks down into fructose instead of glucose during digestion, making it a good substitute for diabetics or folks trying to eat fewer carbohydrates. However, not everyone can digest inulin so well; my favorite quote: “the food can have a potent wind-producing effect.”* So try a little bit first, or don’t make plans for the rest of the afternoon!
Sunchokes also contain vitamin C, phosphorus, and potassium and are a very good source of iron.
*From Eat The Seasons here
When in Season and How to Store & Prepare
When in season: In S.F., October to March
How to store: Place, unwashed, in a plastic bag in the bottom of the vegetable drawer of your fridge. Depending on how long they were sitting at the market, multiple sources I read said they’ll keep 1-3 weeks. I read about one person who kept the tubers for a couple of months in a cold storage root cellar, and I kept mine for about 5 weeks and they were fine -- no degradation of flavor or texture. So I’m guessing they’ll keep quite a bit longer than 1-3 weeks, but if you’ve had yours for a while and aren’t sure, cut a thin slice, try it, and if it tastes fine, use ‘em; if it tastes differently than when you ate them fresher, discard ‘em
How to prepare: Scrub thoroughly, but no need to peel
How to Grow Your Own*
I haven't grown my own sunchokes yet, but since I love them and it's easy to grow them given their high productivity, I'm going to stick a couple of tubers I bought at the farmers' market in the ground and see what happens.
Where to get the tubers: You can plant sunchokes you’ve bought at the market as long as the buds (they look like big potato “eyes”) haven’t been cut off. Or you can order tubers from mail-order seed companies
How & when to plant: Best time to plant is March or April, but you can plant whenever the soil isn’t too wet (if it is wet, refrigerate the tubers in a plastic bag in the fridge until the soil is ready). Choose firm, unblemished tubers and plant 2 inches deep, 1 foot apart, in a place that won’t shade other plants as they’ll shoot up. Water well. Two to three tubers per person is plenty unless you plan to use them as a staple starch
How & when to harvest: In late summer, the plants will likely begin to bloom, but even if they don’t, they’ll still produce edible tubers. When the leaves brown in October, you can dig up the tubers. Harvest only what you need and leave the rest in the ground. In March, dig up the remaining tubers, dig organic matter into the bed, and re-plant the biggest tubers for the following year.
*Adapted from Golden Gate Gardening by Pam Pierce, p. 266
This is a cross-post from my blog, Together In Food, which helps you incorporate more homegrown and homemade food into your life: http://togetherinfood.wordpress.com/.