It's really too bad that the Jerusalem artichoke, or Sunchoke, comes into peak season right around Valentine's Day. Young lovers, eager to impress and please, peel and prep these drab little roots, detailing to their intended what they found in a quick recipe search on Saveur.com. And truly, it's a unique and wonderful-tasting vegetable, at once nutty and vaguely sweet, that requires nothing more than a knob of butter and some basic seasoning to be superb. But if either party is of tender stomch, more specifically sensitive to an insidious little polysaccharide called Inulin, then the true meaning of love might be put to the test. Ah, romance. So how do you know if you're sensitive to Inulin? It's found in varying amounts in many plants, including onions, garlic and chicory root. If you or anyone at your table is sensitive to them, then the Sunchoke, unhappily, should probably be avoided.
For everyone else (which is most of the population), the Sunchoke provides a nice fiber punch, no fat, no starch, high in protein and if the tubers have been allowed to “age” a little, a pleasant sweetness develops as the Inulin is slowly transformed into fructose. Mai Yang Farm out of Sanger has one of the best Sunchoke harvests we've seen in a long time this season. You can find them at the Silver Lake, Echo Park and Hollywood farmers markets.
Sunchokes may bring back some bitter memories for some farmers who were caught up in an odd agricultural pyramid scheme back in the 1980s. Many farms went under and the unfortunate backlash may have branded the plant as unlucky. Sympathy for the duped is only mitigated by the mental picture of a field full of Sunchokes in full bloom — the plain, little tuber sits underneath a gorgeous canopy of dark green foliage and bright yellow daisy like flowers.
Prep is easy. Roast with a little olive oil and salt or boil and then mount with butter and a chopped bitter herb to juxtapose the sweetness. They puree well for soups and they can also be used raw in salads like celeriac or jicama. Select for firm, unwrinkled roots and store like you would potatoes — in a cool, dry area away from the sun or in the vegetable drawer in a plastic bag. In the right conditions, they'll keep for a few weeks.
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