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.