Many people regard summer as the best time to hit the farmers market, but we have a soft spot for the winter months, too. Without the cooler temperatures and increased rainfall, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy delicious root veggies like sunchokes! Whether you already love sunchokes, or are waiting to experience them for the first time, stop by the Yang Farms booth at the Studio City or Hollywood Farmers Market to pick up some of the most delectable.
Background & History
Sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus), also known as Jerusalem artichokes, are members of the sunflower family and native to North America. In 1605, French explorer Samuel Champlain discovered sunchokes in Cape Cod and introduced them to Europe. They became a staple food for the first European pilgrims to North America.
Although they are delicious to eat both raw and cooked (usually in soups or baked), sunchokes are a multipurpose plant with a wide variety of uses. Since the early 1900s, sunchokes have been cultivated to use as fuel alcohol or a fuel additive. They are also an excellent source of fructose sugar.
Types & Characteristics
Knobbly tubers resembling pink ginger roots or potatoes, sunchokes’ ungainly appearance belie a sweet water chestnut-like flavor and fresh crunch. As the name “Jerusalem artichoke” suggests, the sunchoke’s flavor profile also resembles an artichoke’s.
Varieties of sunchokes include Mammoth French White, Stampede, Brazilian White, and Brazilian Red. They thrive in cold climates but love sunny spots and can shoot up to 10 feet tall! They’re in season from mid-October all the way through mid-April, so you have plenty of time to enjoy this versatile root.
Sunchokes are an inexpensive source of vitamin C, phosphorus, potassium, and plenty of iron. They contain almost no starch but lots of inulin, a carbohydrate that promotes good bacteria in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Inulin is so active in its pursuit of GI health, however, that eating sunchokes can lead to flatulence. (You’ve been forewarned!)
Tips & How to Enjoy
When buying sunchokes at your local farmers market, look for roots without soft spots, wrinkles, or sprouting (just like buying a good potato). Don’t worry about knobbles and other textural unevenness–that’s just how they look. They’ll keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator (ideally at 31-32 degrees Fahrenheit with 90%-95% relative humidity).
To enjoy raw, use sunchokes as you would water chestnuts, and cook them as you would potatoes. Not sure where to take it from there? We love roasting sunchokes with some olive, salt, and rosemary, but they are also great in this nourishing soup adapted from chef Jonathan Miller.
Recipe: Sunchoke and Cauliflower Soup
2 Tbls. butter or extra virgin olive oil
1 baby fennel bulb, chopped finely
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped finely
2 c chicken stock or vegetable stock
¾ c milk
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 lb sunchokes, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 sprig thyme
Heat butter/oil in a saucepan and add the fennel, onion, and thyme. Cook over low heat (no browning) until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the stock and milk and bring to a simmer. Add the cauliflower and sunchokes, return to a simmer. Let simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the sunchokes are tender. Remove the thyme sprig. Cool slightly. Purée the soup, then season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Delicious with toasted bread.