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Jerusalem artichokes

Why Eat It
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Once strictly a specialty food, this native American vegetable is becoming more widely available in markets everywhere. "Jerusalem artichoke" has been its common name since the 17th century. The plant has no connection to either Jerusalem or artichokes, but is, in fact, a type of sunflower--which explains why it is sometimes marketed under the name "sunchoke." So, why is it called Jerusalem artichoke? One story is that the French explorer Champlain sampled the vegetable in the early 1600s in Massachusetts, where it was cultivated by Native Americans, and he likened its taste to that of an artichoke. Some years later, after the "chokes" had been introduced to Europe, the English added Jerusalem--perhaps a corruption of girasole (an Italian word that means sunflower).

The sunchoke is actually a tuber, or underground stem, that resembles a small nubby potato or a piece of gingerroot. But 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 also an incomparable source of iron, almost on a par with meats, yet without any fat content.

Availability

Sunchokes can be found in markets year round, but they are most plentiful (and at their best) from late fall through early spring.

Shopping

Sunchokes are sold loose or packed in one-pound plastic bags. Look for clean, firm tubers with unblemished skin, which may be as glossy and tan as the skin of gingerroot, or a matte brown. They should not show a greenish tinge or any sign of sprouting or mold. Choose the least knobby tubers, and be sure they are not limp or spongy. If you're planning to cook them whole, choose sunchokes of similar size.

Storage

Wrap sunchokes in a plastic bag, seal, and store in the refrigerator crisper. They will keep for up to two weeks. If you have a cool, dark storage place, such as a dry cellar, they can also be kept there.

Preparation

Scrub sunchokes well with a vegetable brush. It's better not to peel them, as much of their nutrient value lies just beneath their thin, edible skin. If you choose to do so, however, use a vegetable peeler. Should the small areas of skin around the knobby portions prove difficult to remove, just leave them on. (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. Don't cook sunchokes in aluminum or iron pans, as their white flesh will darken.

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.

Blanching: Sunchokes can be briefly blanched before cooking further by another method such as sauteing. Drop whole sunchokes in a large pot of boiling water, cook just until crisp-tender, and cool in ice water. Cooking time: three to five minutes.

Boiling: Drop whole sunchokes into a large pot of boiling water, or place sliced tubers in a skillet of water. Cook until they feel tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Cooking times: for whole, 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size; for sliced, five to 10 minutes.

Braising: Saute cut-up, blanched sunchokes with herbs, garlic, onions, or other vegetables, then add wine or broth to cover. Simmer, covered, over low heat until the sunchokes are tender. If necessary, uncover toward the end of the cooking time to allow the liquid to reduce. Cooking time: 20 to 30 minutes.

Sauteing: Blanched sunchokes saute quickly to a pleasant al dente consistency. First, cut the sunchokes into bite-sized pieces and blanch them. After blanching, saute them in a small amount of vegetable oil, along with onions and other vegetables. Cooking time: three to four minutes.

Steaming: Place whole or sliced sunchokes in a vegetable steamer and cook until tender. Cooking times: for whole, 15 to 20 minutes; for sliced, five to 10 minutes.

Stir-frying: Sunchokes make a perfect substitute for water chestnuts in meat, poultry, or vegetable stir-fries. Slice the tubers and add for the last two minutes of cooking time.

Nutrition Chart

Jerusalem Artichokes/1 cup raw

114
Total fat (g)
0
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0
Dietary fiber (g)
2.4
3
Carbohydrate (g)
26
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
6
Thiamin (mg)
0.3


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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