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Veggie Highlight: Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes)

raw-whole-sunchokesTo my delight, the last few CSA deliveries introduced 3 new veggies that won me over with their great taste. Once I figured out what they were!

The first is the Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke. (The other 2 will have to wait for future posts....oh, will you be able to handle the suspense???)

So to begin, I'll give you a topic. The Jerusalem artichoke is neither from Jerusalem nor an artichoke. Discuss. (your comedy chops are like 'buttah' if you get that SNL reference. If you don't, no big whoop.)

The sunchoke, as it is alternatively named, is actually related to the sunflower. The name 'Jerusalem' apparently arose from a mispronunciation of the Italian word for sunflower, 'girasola'. Where 'artichoke' comes from has a little more spotty history....supposedly Samuel de Champlain (the French dude Lake Champlain is named after) said they tasted like artichokes and apparently we have been repeating that nonsense for 400 years.

sunchokeplant
photo credit: www.prairiegreenspermaculture.com

Sunchokes are native to North America and were brought over to Europe sometime in the 1600's. They can be grown year-round but are sweetest after a light frost, so the tubers are best harvested between Fall and Spring.

I hope to plant some soon as they have pretty yellow flowers like wild sunflowers that bloom in late summer and are good for bees. But definitely not in my vegetable garden as they can grow about 5 feet tall and apparently are quite invasive, spreading quickly. So I will find them their own happy little space somewhere in the yard (or possibly a large container).

They are a goofy looking veggie, quite bumpy and a little bit hard to clean. They look similar to a ginger root. You definitely need to take a brush to all the crooks and crannies. You can peel them but that seems like way too much work to me. They're tasty with a crisp texture and sort of a nutty flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked.

  • Steam ~15 minutes (can turn to mush so check to make sure firm as you go)
  • Saute by slicing, then rinsing in a bit of lemon juice/water to keep from browning, and cooking over medium heat for ~5 minutes
  • Roast (my favorite as they carmelize a bit) after tossing with butter or olive oil for ~20 minutes at 400 degrees

In the pictures below, I had cut them up in similar size pieces and coated them in olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper before roasting.  An easy side dish.

sunchoke2sunchoke3

 

 

 

 

 

Sunchokes are rich in inulin (not to be confused with insulin), a carbohydrate associated with good gut health due to its prebiotic (bacteria promoting) qualities. During digestion, inulin breaks down to fructose rather than glucose.  Because of this, sunchokes are often mentioned as being good a good substitute for potatoes for diabetics.  They are a great source of iron and fiber.

1_33813_41078 topinambur-flOk, here's the last fun factoid:

Sunchokes are much more popular in Europe now than in the US. In fact, they were a staple during the World War II years due to rationing/food scarcity.

Over 90% of the sunchokes grown in Germany now actually go toward the production of a liqueur called Topinambur (the name for sunchokes in Europe), sort of a sunchoke brandy, sometimes mixed with herbs (which sounds a bit like Jagermeister to me?).

In all my trips to Germany to visit my husband's family, I've never encountered it. Sounds like a mission for our next visit!

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