Sunday, April 21, 2002

Serve it this week: Sunchokes

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        History: Also called “Jerusalem artichokes,” sunchokes are the knobby tubers of sunflowers native to North America. Once discovered and exported to the Old World, sunchokes became popular in the Mediterranean countries, which is how some believe they came by their name.

        Specialty produce marketers began labeling them “sunchokes” in the 1960s. In parts of Europe, sunchokes are also known as topinambour, the French name of a Brazilian tribe. (No one agrees on how sunchokes got a Brazilian name, even though they first came from what is now Canada.)

        FYI: French explorer Samuel de Champlain tasted sunchokes cultivated by the Indians in 1605 and described them as having “the taste of artichokes.”

        Buy: Select sunchokes that are firm and fresh-looking, not soft or wrinkled.

        Store: Keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.

        Prepare: If their skin is thin, sunchokes can be scrubbed and served unpeeled. Otherwise, peel and serve raw in salads, boiled or steamed like potatoes or in soup. After slicing, put sunchokes in water acidulated with lemon juice to prevent browning.

        Good for you: Sunchokes are a good source of iron, potassium, thiamin and niacin.

        Professional treatment: Since the sunchoke is relatively unknown here, few American-born chefs use the tuber in dishes. But Elizabeth Schneider writes in her Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini (Morrow; $60) that Fortunato Nicotra, chef at Felidia in New York, has served Jerusalem Artichoke Flan with Fontina Crostini. French-trained chef Roland Liccioni created Sunchoke and Sweet Potato Gratin, she reports, and Southern chef Jeff Buben serves Jerusalem Artichoke Cream Soup, made with pureed leeks, onions, potatoes and sunchokes.

Hot and Spicy Sesame Sunchokes

        2 teaspoons olive or canola oil
        1 teaspoon sesame oil
        1 clove minced garlic
        1/4 teaspoon crushed dried red pepper flakes or a small jalapeno, minced
        1 pound peel-on sunchokes, thinly sliced
        Water, as needed
        1 tablespoon soy sauce
        1 tablespoon rice vinegar
        1 tablespoon sesame seeds

        Heat both oils in a large nonstick saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and pepper flakes; saute 30 seconds until garlic begins to turn light brown. Add sunchokes and stir well to combine. Saute 3 minutes, adding a drop of water, if needed, to prevent sticking. Add soy sauce, vinegar and sesame seeds. Continue to saute 1 minute and serve. Makes 4 servings.


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- Serve it this week: Sunchokes