Other Names: Jerusalem artichoke, sunroot.
General Description: The sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is a gnarled tan tuber of a perennial flower in the Compositae family. Sunchokes originated in North America where they were a common food for Native Americans. In Italy, they are known as girasole articiocco, “sunflower artichoke.” This may actually be the source of their other name, Jerusalem artichoke, not the city in Israel, as people misheard the word girasole. The French term, topinambour, comes from a South American tribe, the Topinambas, members of which visited France around the same time the tubers were introduced to Europe in the 16th century. The French are credited with improving the tubers and cultivating sunchokes on a large scale.
Sunchokes have ivory-colored flesh that is crispy when raw. Their delicate flavor is slightly sweet and nutty, reminiscent of jicama, water chestnuts, and even artichoke. They can be smooth but are often bumpy with crackly skin. Sunchokes can cause flatulence, so eat in small portions till you know your own tolerance.
Season: Although available year-round, they are at their best in fall and winter.
Purchase: Choose smooth, clean, unblemished, firm tubers with a minimum of bumps.
Avoid: Pass up sunchokes with wrinkled skins, soft spots, blotched green areas, or sprouts.
Storage: Handle sunchokes with care as they bruise easily. Store in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area away from light. Or, wrap in paper towels and place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper for up to 1 week.
Note: Avoid aluminum or iron pans as these metals will cause the sunchokes to turn an unappealing grayish color. Even after cooking, iron content may cause them to turn gray. Add a little lemon juice or vinegar to the cooking water to prevent this.
- Scrub thoroughly with a vegetable brush.
- Slice off the small, bumpy areas and then peel.
- Drop peeled pieces into a bowl of water with lemon juice to prevent darkening. Or, cook whole and then peel.
Serving Suggestions: Shred, slice, or julienne, then soak briefly in acidulated water, drain, and add to salads or slaws. Deep-fry thin slices to make nutty sunchoke chips. Make savory pancakes by shredding and combining with flour, egg, and shredded onion. Roast whole sunchokes tossed with oil, or add to the roasting pan with chicken, turkey, lamb, or pork during the last half hour of cooking.
Flavor Affinities: Butter, cinnamon, cloves, cream, mint, mustard, nut oils, nutmeg, onion, roasted meats, vinaigrette.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com