Everything to Know About Shopping For, Storing, and Preparing In-Season Sunchokes
Plus, 3 new recipes
The best way to shop? With the seasons. So, every 2 weeks at Kitchen Stories, we'll be highlighting a different in-season ingredient along with 3 new recipes. To the market, we go!
We know, the name is confusing. This earthy, knobby in-season vegetable is known as Jerusalem artichoke in many countries, but it's neither from Jerusalem nor a type of artichoke. Sunchoke, which is predominantly used in the U.S., also wrongly indicates its relation to artichoke. In Chinese, it’s known as “foreign ginger” in many regions, perhaps due to its appearance, but it’s not a type of ginger either. Topinambour, its French name, is oddly irrelevant to the vegetable itself. Apparently, this is a vegetable that never gets a break.
But, for as long as I can remember, lightly pickled sunchokes were a staple on my family’s dinner table in the colder months: as crunchy slices drizzled with chili oil, as thin strips in stir-fried meat dishes, or as an appetizing condiment for glass noodle soups.
It may not be a natural-born star with an awe-inspiring or particularly attractive physique, but underneath the thin, soil-covered skin, a sunchoke is full of nutrients, and its versatile texture paired with a subtle but refreshing taste makes it a good canvas for a variety of different flavors and cooking methods.
1. Hello, my name is sunchoke
Sunchokes are also known as sunroots or Jerusalem artichokes, they are the edible tubers of a sunflower variety. Native to the Americas, the “Jerusalem” part of its name is believed to have come from the corrupted Italian word girasole (sunflower). Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer who introduced it to Europe in the early 1600s, is said to have compared its taste to an artichoke, and the names kind of stuck.
Sunchokes have been trendy in herbal medicine and nutritional supplements for a long time. You can detect a nuttiness and mild sweet taste in these cylindrical (some varieties can be rounder in shape) tubers. The natural sweetness comes from its high level of inulin, which is a collection of fructose polymers that is good for regulating blood sugar levels. It’s also a great source of B vitamins and vitamin C, as well as minerals like potassium, iron, and zinc.
Compared to say, a potato, sunchokes are much less starchy and lower in calories, plus the amount of dietary fiber also stays relatively the same before and after cooking.
2. When and how to buy sunchokes
Starting from late fall and lasting throughout much of winter, you can usually find this odd, ginger-like root at your local farmer’s markets and supermarkets. Like with potatoes, you should always look for tubers that are firm to the touch and even in color (purple-ish or pale brown, depending on the variety). When it feels soft or even a bit squishy, it’s usually an indication of staleness, and green or dark spots should also be avoided.
You can plant your own sunchokes pretty easily, as they are not susceptible to pests and can be harvested over and over again for many years. Spring is the right time to start planting, usually in March or April, and the harvest can last from November through the following March.
3. How to store sunchokes
When you buy these tubers, they are usually still covered in soil—and for good reason. It’s best not to clean, peel, or cut them before you actually use them, so this dusting of dirt actually helps protect the skin and make them last longer. You can keep them in a cool cellar for around 10 days, but they will only last a couple of days after being cleaned and cut—even when stored in the fridge.
It’s not always necessary to peel a sunchoke, as the skin itself is quite thin and doesn’t affect the taste. Before cooking, you should put peeled or sliced sunchokes in some cold water with a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar, to keep the flesh from becoming discolored.
4. All the ways to enjoy sunchokes
When eaten raw (another advantage when compared with potatoes), sunchoke has a refreshing crunchiness to it. You can shave them thinly with a mandoline, or cut them into thin slices to add to salads—pairing them with other vegetables and fruits that have a similar texture, like carrots, green apples, or pears.
Most of the time, you can prepare sunchokes like potatoes: boil, sauté, fry, mash, add them to your stews, or make a creamy soup, roast them together with meat, or just some hearty herbs like rosemary and thyme. As I learned from my dad, you can also lightly pickle them for about a week; this way you retain the fresh and crunchy taste, and can also use them as a condiment even past their season.
As you can see, the virtue of sunchoke lies in plain sight. It listens to your directions with good temperament and pairs well with many other ingredients, so this season, try swapping out your potato for a sunchoke.
5. What to look forward to next...
For the whole week, we’ll be featuring new sunchoke recipes on Kitchen Stories. Remember to come back and check out what’s new, but feel free to jump right in and get started with these delicious recipes:
Published on November 3, 2019