The biggest mystery surrounding the sunchoke is what, exactly, you should do with it. The sunchoke, or Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), is an edible tuber, in the same vein as a potato, that grows underground. Native Americans cultivated them and they became a popular crop in Europe after colonizing the Americas. Despite their alternate name, sunchokes have nothing to do with Jerusalem nor are they related to artichokes, though they taste a little bit like them.
Sunchokes look a little bit like large knobs of ginger. However, a Jerusalem artichoke taste is slightly nutty and savory—like a cross between an artichoke heart and the best potato you've ever had. Find them at a farmers market or specialty grocery stores, as they're less likely to show up in conventional supermarkets.
How to Cook Sunchokes
A versatile vegetable, sunchokes can be prepared the same way you would cook any other root veggie. If you're not sure if you like the vegetable, try it first pureed in a soup. This will introduce you to the flavor of the vegetable. Other ways to cook sunchokes include:
- Raw: Unlike potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes can be eaten raw. Grated or thinly sliced, they add a bit of crunch and texture to a raw green salad, much like jicama.
- Steamed/Boiled: Sunchokes can also be steamed, boiled, or even microwaved, much like potatoes. Boil them in water for 10 to 15 minutes or until soft. Larger sunchokes will need a bit longer, and, just like potatoes, you can chop them up first to get them to cook a bit quicker. They tend to get a bit mushy when boiled, so steaming them is a better choice.
- Fried: Thinly sliced, sunchokes can be fried in oil until golden brown. If they're sliced thinly enough and salted, they will taste a little bit like potato chips.
- Mashed: Also like a potato, sunchokes can be mashed or twice-baked. Just boil them for
- Grilled: To grill sunchokes, slice them thin and brush with olive oil before laying them on the grill, or wrap in a foil packet drizzled with oil.
- Roasted: Another option is to roast sunchokes in the oven. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F, drizzle your coarsely chopped sunchokes with oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until soft and golden brown. Roasting the sunchokes gives them a sweet, caramelized flavor that gets a little crunchy.
Can You Eat the Skins?
Though the skins of sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes are indeed edible, some people find the taste too earthy. Others like the natural taste of the skins and find it part of the earthy charm of the sunchoke. However, the skins are stringy, so they are best trimmed before eating or cooking.
A Word of Warning
Sunchokes have a bit of a bad reputation, and for good reason—the root vegetable is high in inulin, a type of carbohydrate that causes gas and bloating. It's most likely to have this side effect when served raw, so go slowly the first few times you serve the tuber in a salad. The amount of inulin varies from sunchoke to sunchoke, and a person's sensitivity varies, too. Therefore, it won't affect everyone the same way.