Don’t Be Fooled!
The Jerusalem Artichoke – what a tricky vegetable it is. The name would lead you to expect something greenish with layers of pointy leaves. It doesn’t look like that. In fact, it looks almost exactly like ginger! But it’s not at all similar to ginger either. And back in the 70’s it got renamed by California marketing gurus eager to get consumers more interested in this weirdo vegetable, newly dubbed “sunchoke”. So what the heck is it?!
“It” is a starchy root vegetable very similar to your everyday run-of-the-mill potato. But it’s nice to say you’re having Jerusalem artichokes or sunchokes for dinner instead of potatoes for the fifth time this week. I’m going to refer to them as sunchokes from here on out though. It’s easier to type. What can I say? I’m lazy (and apparently a sucker for marketing ploys).
I’d never encountered a sunchoke before until two weeks ago when their tall sunflower-like stalks at the farm got pulled up to reveal these funky roots. At Headhouse Market, I decided to poll everyone who bought them for their favorite way to prepare them and then try the best suggestion for myself. The winner was stewing them, largely because the young lady who told me about it mentioned how the sunchokes slip their skins after they are stewed so you don’t have to bother with peeling them. I didn’t really want to carve around each of the little bumps on each root. What I realized after I made this dish was that I really can’t imagine that you’d ever need to peel sunchokes, unless you want a very smooth puree. The skins are thin and tender – again, much like the humble potato only thinner.
Once I got started on the notion of stewing the sunchokes, I just went with my gut from there to make a final dish out of them. I had some fresh sugar snap peas still on hand from when I picked them a few weeks back. It’s amazing how long vegetables picked straight off the plant last in comparison to those being shipped and stored before hitting store shelves. No way would store bought peas have smiled as happily at me from the crisper drawer after two weeks of just chillin’, waiting for me to come up with a good way to use them. Some vegetable stock and herbs were all it took to create this hearty and flavorful first taste of sunchokes for me.
I gotta say, I’m pretty hooked on these identity-challenged veggies. Once stewed, their melt-in-you-mouth texture was silky and full of all the flavors I’d thrown in the stock, more so than potatoes cooked in the same fashion would have had. Venturing a guess here, I think the texture and flavor might have to do with the presence of inulin in the vegetable. Don’t ask me to explain inulin, just click on the link and learn all about it from dear ol’ Wiki. It’s similar to starch but more nutritious and a soluble fiber. Really, I can’t interpret all this scientific mumbojumbo. Just follow the trail of links through Wiki and find out for yourself.
But why the heck is it called a Jerusalem Artichoke?! Well, apparently, when it was first brought to Europe from North America (yep, this veggie is a native!), they called it “girasole”, which is Italian for sunflower (the photo above is of the flowers that grew on the top of their stalk so you can see why this is a viable explanation). Eventually the name morphed into Jerusalem. And since the plant is indeed a relative of the artichoke, you’ve got yourself a modern day Jerusalem Artichoke.
And now you know.
STEWED SUNCHOKES AND PEAS
A Straight from the Farm Original
6-7 sunchokes (about 1/2 lb.)
2 c. vegetable stock
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 t. chopped fresh chives
1 rind of parmesan cheese (optional, but highly recommended)
1 c. whole sugar snap peas
1 T. butter
1 T. cornstarch
1 T. water
1 T. dried marjoram
salt and pepper to taste
Cooked quinoa (optional)
Scrub sunchocks well to remove any dirt. Cut away any bad spots. Place sunchokes in heavy saucepan and add vegetable stock to cover (should be about 2 cuts, depending on size of saucepan). Add sprig of rosemary, chives and the parmesan rind. Bring liquid up to a boil before reducing to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook until sunchokes are fork-tender, about 15 minutes.
Add peas to saucepan and cover. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until peas are tender. Meanwhile, dissolve cornstarch in water. Melt butter in stock and add dissolved cornstarch, stirring until liquid thickens. Add marjoram, salt and freshly ground pepper. Fish out the stem from the rosemary and what’s left of the paremsan rind.
Serve straight as a stew or ladle over cooked quinoa for a full meal.