Friday, June 5, 2009

Neither Israeli, Nor Artichokes

Trying new foods is one of the joys of buying produce at the farmer's market. Since it's still early in the season, most of the plants on offer are leafy greens and overwintered root vegetables.

In May I'd noticed the basket of red, gnarled bulbs labeled sunchokes at the Snakeroot Organic Farm booth, but I was too enamored with rhubarb, asparagus, and spinach to give them much thought. Last week I slept in, and when I got to the market most of the glamorous veggies were sold out. Determined that my trip would not be in vain, I decided to give the funny little tubers a try.

When I got home and searched online for recipes, I was surprised to learn that sunchokes are the same thing as Jerusalem Artichokes. I'd always assumed those were a rare, gourmet artichoke variety (some foodie I am). But Jerusalem artichokes don't come from the Holy Land, and they're unrelated to the spiky green artichokes I know and love. They're the tuber roots of the sunflower plant, and they can either be eaten or planted to grow flowers.

The story is that some Italian brought them home from the New World, and because their slightly sweet, earthy flavor reminded him of artichokes, he called them girasole articiocco, “sunflower artichoke.” In a slow, intercontinental game of telephone, girasole turned into Jerusalem, and the rest is history. "Sunchoke" makes a little more sense, but sounds less exotic and sophisticated.

In stores you'll see pale brown sunchokes that look like a cross between ginger root and a potato. Snakeroot Farm grows a red-skinned variety native to Nova Scotia.

Like other root vegetables, sunchokes are harvested in the fall and available throughout winter and spring, which makes this post laughably out of season. I bought my sunchokes last weekend, but they may be impossible to find again until fall, so bookmark this page for October.

Sunchokes are crunchier than potatoes, with a consistency similar to water chestnuts. They can be grated raw into salads; sprinkle on sunflower seeds, and you're practically eating the sunflower circle of life. Sunchokes are mild, watery, and slightly sweet. They store inulin instead of starch. Because inulin is indigestible, it has minimal impact on blood sugars and it stimulates the growth of friendly intestinal flora (think of them as sunflowers in your colon). For some people inulin causes gastrointestinal discomfort, so if you've never tried sunchokes, start small and see how you feel.

These baked chips are lower in fat than the fried variety, with a nutty, caramelized flavor that stands on its own. I like them with nothing but salt and pepper, though garam masala might make a nice seasoning.

Baked Sunchoke Chips

Sunchokes (1 large makes enough for 2 people)
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 400F.

Wash and scrub sunchokes very well. I find peeling them is not worth the effort because they're so bumpy. Slice sunchokes as thinly as possible, less than 1/8 inch thick.

In a medium bowl, toss with salt, pepper, and enough olive oil to coat. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in center of oven.

How long the chips should bake depends on how thick they are and your preference. Check them every 10 minutes. When thinner chips are browned, thicker chips might still be soggy. I baked mine for 20 minutes, until all the chips were crispy and the thinnest were a little bit burnt. Set them on a paper towel to cool for a few minutes before serving.

They're perfect beside a veggie burger!

2 comments:

  1. Very Interesting! I haven't heard or seen sunchokes before but I would give it a try if I could find them. Looks yummy!!

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  2. What a creepy looking food! Doesn't matter. It's Vegan and I'll try anything that is!

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