Discovering Sunchokes

The other day, I found myself at a local fruit and vegetable stand where I spent a considerable amount of time looking at all the gorgeous fresh produce and flowers.  I came across a bin filled with something that resembled ginger root:

They were actually sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes.  I had heard of this root vegetable before, but was unsure how to prepare it.  I decided to buy some.  When I got home, I did a little bit of research.  Interestingly, sunchokes are part of the sunflower family, and are native to North America. Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer very well-known in the Northeast part of the country, found sunchokes on Cape Cod in the early 1600s and thought them to be similar in taste to artichokes.  He brought them back to Europe, where they became popular.  The name “Jerusalem” artichoke is thought to have evolved from “girasole,” the Italian word for sunflower, which is what it was called when cultivation of the plant had spread to Italy.

Sunchokes are often used as a substitute for potatoes by diabetics, due to their low starch content.  A note of caution, however. Don’t eat too many of these at one time, as they contain a carbohydrate that the body has a hard time breaking down, which, in some people could lead to some – ahem – unpleasant results (i.e., gassiness).  Luckily, I didn’t experience this.

I peeled the sunchokes and placed them in a bowl of cold water, as they oxidize and turn brown very quickly.  They resembled a potato, so I decided that my first attempt at making them would be in a soup. They have a very nice, earthy flavor when cooked, and made a soup so creamy (without any cream!) and delicious. There was so much flavor that the soup didn’t really require any additional herbs or spices, IMHO.

I decided I’ll buy more the next time I go to the produce stand and try some different recipes.

Sunchoke Soup with Lightly Caramelized Onions

(serves 2)

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion sliced
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 lb sunchokes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 cups chicken or veggie broth or homemade stock
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

In a small pan, heat 1-2 tbsp of olive oil and add the sliced onion.  Wilt over medium-low heat, covered, and stirring occasionally. Remove the cover and continue cooking until lightly caramelized, probably about another 10-15 minutes.

In a saucepot, heat another tbsp of olive oil.  Add the garlic and the shallot and cook until softened. Do not burn.  Add the broth, the sunchokes, a dash of salt and some pepper.

Cover and bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and simmer for 45-50 minutes.  Using an immersion or upright blender, purée the soup.  Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.

Ladle into a bowl and garnish with some of the caramelized onions.  You can also drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the top for a little something extra.


Hold That Chicken! (a.k.a. Chicken Stock 101)

Chicken stock can be used for much more than soup.   Using a little bit of stock instead of water adds so much more great flavor to risottos, sauces, rice, mashed potatoes.  It’s also great when cooking healthy, as it boosts flavor almost as much as adding butter.

Instead of using water or the canned broth, I try as much as possible to use my own homemade chicken stock.  I can’t tell you how much better it tastes when you make your own instead of using the canned stuff. 

DP Note: A “stock” is made using more bones vs. meat and generally involves browning them before simmering, which provides more flavor.  A “broth” is made using more meat vs. bones, and there is no browning of the ingredients prior to simmering.

While I do also use canned broth from time to time, there is simply nothing better than homemade.  When using the canned (or the larger “boxed” container) variety, however, I like to use Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Low Sodium Organic Chicken Broth.  It just has a richer flavor that is so much better than the College Inn or Swanson brands.

Making your own homemade stock is very easy and requires little effort.  No recipe required, and you can improvise each time, based on what you have in the refrigerator or pantry. You don’t even have to cook a roast chicken in order to make a homemade stock – just pick up a rotisserie chicken from the market on the way home for dinner, and use the leftover bones.

You can keep stock in the refrigerator for about a week.  You can also freeze it and it should last a few months.  I like to portion out my stock in quart-size zip top bags, squeezing out the excess air and then freezing. 

Homemade Chicken Stock

This makes about 8 cups.

Place the leftover chicken carcass into a stockpot.  Add any vegetables you have in order to provide additional flavor (no chopping or peeling needed, just drop them in whole):  onion, garlic, leeks, carrots, celery, parsnips, etc.   You can also save any other vegetable scraps you accumulate while cooking by throwing them into a zip top bag and placing in the freezer until you’re ready to use them.   Get creative — save whatever you have: asparagus, green beans, ends of squash or zucchini.  The only rules are not to  use too much of just one vegetable, or it will overwhelm the flavor of the stock, and not to use really strong or bitter vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.

Also add any herbs with which you’d like to flavor the stock: oregano, basil, rosemary — whatever you have.

Place enough cold water in the pot to cover the bones and veggies and bring to a quick boil.  Skim the foam that forms on the top of the stock.  Reduce heat and let it simmer for at least 3-4 hours, while periodically skimming the top.

Once the stock cools a bit so that it is close to room temperature, strain it through a colander and place it in individual containers and chill in the refrigerator.  The next day, skim off the fat that appears on the top and either use or freeze.  As mentioned above, the stock can be kept for up to a week in the refrigerator, and several months in the freezer.