Monday, September 26, 2011

Jerusalem Artichokes: An American Native

Jerusalem Artichokes, (Helianthus tuberosus) a.k.a. Sunchokes, are actually in the sunflower family and native to North America. They aren't related to artichokes and didn't originate in Jerusalem, but their edible tubers do have a wonderful artichoke-like flavor.

Sunchoke tubers with globe artichokes: they aren't related!

They are very easy to grow and are crispy when raw in salads, and tasty cooked and pureed into a soup, mashed, or sauteed. If you like the taste, they are a great addition to your edible landscape. And as a bonus, Jerusalem Artichokes have pretty clusters of sunflowers and make lots of tubers to harvest in the fall.

 Sauteed Sunchokes: Simple and Delicious
We  recently dug up a couple of the tubers and tried them sauteed in olive oil with chopped garlic and loved the creamy texture and earthy flavor:

Scrub the soil off of the tubers, if you have trouble cleaning between the bumpy parts just break them up. You can peel some of the thin skin off but don't worry about getting it all. Slice the tubers about 1/4 inch thick. Warm up some olive oil in a skillet. Add the Sunchoke slices and cook on medium heat so that they don't burn- stir occasionally; it will take 5-10 minutes. Some chopped garlic is nice; add it at the same time as the Sunchokes and cook together. If the garlic begins to get too brown, remove it and add it back when the Sunchokes are done, or discard (the garlic will still add flavor to the oil).

Serve warm with some chopped parsley and a sprinkle of kosher salt, if you have some. This makes a great accompaniment to other cooked vegetables, and I can imagine adding it to pasta with sauteed mushrooms. Now we're exited about trying out more recipes this fall and winter.

Plant the tubers in full sun in the Spring for August flowers and fall harvest

Growing Sunchokes
We planted a couple of the tubers last Spring on the side of our house where we had sheet composted to build up the soil over the winter. Sunchokes are a fall season vegetable so we had bought some at a local Whole Foods Market (check your farmer's market too) and kept them in a pot with potting soil over the winter. When Spring came I began watering the pot until the plants emerged, then planted them into the ground about an inch deep in a sunny spot.

A few tubers will divide into lots of edible tubers in one season
Ours grew a surprising 12 feet high and flowered in August.  They are very prolific so be careful where you plant them, although they're easy to dig up, and you'll enjoy having a good supply to eat!

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