The Jerusalem Artichoke

The Jerusalem artichoke, also called sunchoke, sunroot, or topinambur, is a species of sunflower native to the eastern United States and was first cultivated by Native Americans.  Despite its name, the Jerusalem artichoke has no relation to Jerusem, and it is not a type of artichoke. The origin of the name is uncertain. European settlers called the plant Girasole, the Italian word for sunflower. Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer, sent the first samples of the plant to France, noting that its taste was similar to an artichoke.

The tubers, which resemble ginger root, have a consistency much like potatoes, and in their raw form have a similar taste to potatoes except they are crunchier and sweeter with a slightly nutty taste. Jerusalem Artichokes are a diabetic friendly food as they have no starch but contain a carbohydrate called inulin (not “insulin”) which can’t be broken down by our enzymes – this means that the carbohydrate doesn’t get converted to sugars. Once the tubers are refrigerated, the inulin is converted to fructose and the tubers develop a sweeter taste. The inulin is not well digested by some people.  Jerusalem artichokes have 650 mg potassium per 1 cup (150g) serving. They are also high in iron, and contain 10-12% of the US RDA of fiber, niacin, thiamine, phosphorus and copper.[5]

The easiest way to eat sunchokes is just to bite into them like an apple or slice them (They will get a rusty discoloration when sliced but soaking in acidified water prevents this:  2 t. lemon juice in 2-4 qts. water).  Sunchokes can also be prepared in ways similar to potatoes, which means they’re great roasted or mashed.  They roast more quickly than beets or potatoes.  Mash them separately or mixed with potatoes.  Some recipes suggest you peel them, but that’s no easy task and if they’re fresh, there’s really no need to bother.  Scrubbing them with a stiff brush can work if they need sprucing up.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup 12 servings

2 ½ pounds Jerusalem artichokes

Lemon juice: 2 T. for soaking plus 2 t. to be added at end

2 T. butter

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves- minced

2 qts. chicken or vegetable broth

Salt and pepper

1 ½ c. heavy cream or half & half

  1. Thickly slice the chokes and set aside in large bowl.  Cover with cold water mixed w/ 2 T. of the lemon juice.  This keeps them from discoloring.
  2. Using large pot, preferably heavy bottomed, saute onion in butter until translucent.  Add minced garlic cloves and cook 1 minute longer.  Drain chokes and add to pan along with broth, ½ t. salt, and ¼ t. pepper.  Bring to boil over high heat.  Lower heat and simmer about 35 minutes or until sunchokes are tender.
  3. Blend until smooth, using either an immersion blender or working in batches using  a countertop blender. (MAKE AHEAD: Recipe to here can be refrigerated up to 1 day.)
  4. Bring soup to a boil over high heat and cook until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and stir in the cream.  Season soup with remaining 2 t. lemon juice, salt, pepper.   Serve warm.  Garlic croutons are nice on top if you have some.
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