Sunchokes: What They Are and How to Cook Them
The big knobby root vegetable, otherwise known as a sunchoke, has gained increasing attention in recent years at farmers’ markets across the country due to its versatility, quick-cooking nature, minimal prep time, and nutty flavor profile. Low-calorie, high in fiber, and a tasty low-carb substitute, here’s why sunchokes should be part of your fall and winter meals, if they aren’t already.
If you visited any farmers' markets in the last three years or so, perhaps you came across these odd, knobby vegetables that slightly resemble ginger. Presumably, baffled by their appearance and with an uncertainty of how to cook with them, it's possible you overlooked them in favor of another fresh find. Can we let you in on a little secret? In that moment, you missed out on scooping up one of the most versatile root veggies that's available to us: sunchokes.
It's okay. Most people have never eaten a sunchoke and are unsure of what to do with them. Despite their strange tubular shape, sunchokes are equally as delicious raw as they are roasted. Now that we're in peak sunchoke season, here's what you need to know about the veggie and how you can add it to your meals for a sweet, completely nutty and crunchy bite.
What are sunchokes?
Sunchokes are a tubular-shaped, thin-skinned root vegetable of the sunflower plant family that's in season from late fall through early spring. Often mistakenly referred to as Jerusalem artichokes, sunchokes have no origins in Jerusalem, and they really don't taste like artichokes. If anything, sunchokes can be accurately compared to potatoes, both in how they're grown underground and their earthy flavor profile. But it's possible the mix up between sunchokes and artichokes has more to do with the disenchanting root word they share: “choke.”
But before we divulge all the delicious ways you can put sunchokes to good use, we should warn you that sunchokes have another interesting nickname. As one of our food editors put it, they're also known as "fartichokes." And we'll leave it up to you to make the decision on whether its gassy effects are worth the risk.
Speaking of how sunchokes can affect you, you should know that sunchokes are a great source of iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Not to mention, they're also low-calorie, fiber-rich, and contain the carbohydrate inulin, which helps to keep blood and glucose levels stable.
Where can I find sunchokes?
In a post published in 2015, Cooking Light interviewed Scott Crawford, who is the chef-owner of the farm-focused Standard Foods, a restaurant and grocery in Raleigh, North Carolina. In the article, Crawford stated sunchokes are hard to find in supermarkets. However, they're the "darling of cold-season farmers' markets and regularly stocked by gourmet grocers as well."
While a native to the U.S., sunchokes aren't typically cultivated here for food, but there are plenty of varieties available in the country, from shortened, knobby pieces to elongated, smoother versions. Even the color varies per sunchoke, ranging from light brown and cream to pink and purple. When picking out sunchokes, you'll want to select those that are firm with no black spots or noticeable blemishes for the best cooking results.
What can I do with sunchokes?
Certain vegetables lend themselves to be prepared in a multitude of ways to bring out all their unique flavors, and sunchokes are one of them. Like potatoes or cauliflower, sunchokes can be roasted, fried, boiled, steamed, grilled, etc. As Crawford said so eloquently, "Indeed, they're fantastic roasted, pickled, mashed, smashed, and twice-baked." He added, "You can enjoy them in all the same contexts you'd use for any root veggies. A puréed soup is always a gateway. You can put an unfamiliar root vegetable like this in a simple puréed soup to explore all of its flavor possibilities."
Roasted Sunchokes - Before cooking or eating raw sunchokes, make sure to run cold water over them to remove any traces of dirt. Then, cut or slice them thinly, leaving the skin. Yes, the skin doesn't have to be peeled, making it even more quick and easy to cook with them. Once the sunchokes are completely cleaned, drizzle a little oil, salt, and pepper over them and roast at 425°F for about 35 minutes. Roasting leads to a sweet, caramelized crunch that pairs perfectly with a succulent main.
Mash or Twice-Baked Sunchokes - Say it isn't so! Better than mashed or a twice-baked potato? Why, yes! The only difference between sunchokes and potatoes, in terms of flavor, is that sunchokes are slightly sweeter with a texture more like that of a fingerling potato. You can boil sunchokes for about 15 minutes until they get soft and add a little butter, garlic, or oil. There you have it—a healthier carb swap for potatoes or a savory hash for brunch!
Raw Sunchokes - Unlike potatoes, though, sunchokes can be eaten raw. Whether you grate or thinly slice them, leave the skin on and they make for a crispy salad topper.
Fried Sunchokes - Again, just like with potatoes, sunchokes can be fried. Thinly slice them and fry them in whatever healthy oil you'd prefer until the sunchokes turn a golden brown. Add a dash of salt, and you have your very own sunchoke chips.
No matter how you try them, sunchokes are an incredibly versatile way to introduce a new root vegetable and side dish into your family's mealtime repertoire.