Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What on Earth is a Jerusalem Artichoke?: by Tina Clinefelter

In some European countries this misnamed vegetable is considered to be a gourmet food, and the Native Americans regarded it as a food staple, but in truth, it is an under-used source of a non-starchy carbohydrate especially valuable as a potato substitute for the diabetic.

Let’s go back to the name – Jerusalem artichoke – it is thought that the name is a corruption of the Italian word ‘girasole’ meaning ‘sun-follower’ as this a member of the sunflower group, Helianthus tuberosus’, and a famous person whose name I forget, thought it tasted somewhat like an artichoke. Anyhow, an enterprising Madison Avenue-type person has re-named them ‘Sunchokes’ and that is how they are being marketed today. They look rather like a knobby ginger root and have the texture of a water chestnut when eaten raw. I should have already explained that the edible part is the tuber or root system of a plant that looks like a tall, rangy, small-flowered sunflower
Sunchokes are native to North America and grow in many areas being able to handle cooler climates and a variety of soil types. They are a perennial, yellow daisy-like flower with a yellow center, growing 5-10 feet tall with opposite, rough, hairy leaves. If left alone they can survive for years in the same planting place, but the tubers will decrease in size as the nutrition levels drop; to keep a healthy crop producing, the ‘chokes must be re-located into richer soil – this means dig out and re-plant – no easy chore! I grew them once, and wished to stop, but it was years before every last little bit of tuber was rooted out…

Sunchokes (sometimes also called sunroots) are a great source of Vitamin C, iron, niacin, phosphorus and potassium and are also rich in inulin (not insulin), a non-starchy prebiotic for intestinal health; here’s where I must interject a word of warning – they are also notorious for being a ‘gas’ producer, and you may want to have the Beano on hand before indulging and think twice before serving sunchokes to company.

Best cooking methods are roasted, sautéed, steamed or raw; boiling may make them too mushy; and like many fall vegetables they are tastier when harvested after a couple of frosts.
On the commercial front sunchokes are used in the production of fructose and are being considered as a material for ethanol (better idea than using corn – I think).

So, does this make you want to try this ‘new’ vegetable? Here’s a recipe to get you started:
2 – 3 large sunchokes, washed (skins left on), sliced ¼” thick
2 Tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. salt
1 sprig rosemary, stem removed
3 – 4 cloves whole garlic, peeled

Pre-heat oven to 425*
Toss sunchokes with garlic in olive oil, in a roasting pan.
Sprinkle with salt and rosemary.
Bake 15 – 20 minutes until tender.
Bon appétit!

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