Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, are not artichokes but a variety of sunflower featuring a lumpy, brown-skinned tuber whose white flesh is nutty, sweet and crunchy. They are low in calories and a good source of iron. Come autumn, sunchokes are a common ingredient at locavore restaurants.
IN THE PANTRY
Choose large, hard tubers that are golden-coloured with no bruises or soft spots, advises Douglas Eng, owner of Zephyr Organics, a farm growing certified organic vegetables in Zephyr, Ont., an hour north of Toronto. Stored unwashed in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator, sunchokes will last as long as a year, he said. The root vegetable is available at the weekend farmers' markets at Toronto's Evergreen Brick Works and is sold at Toronto retailers Harvest Wagon and Fiesta Farms and at Whole Foods Market stores in Ontario and Western Canada.
ON THE PLATE
"I've been using sunchokes my entire career," says Sam Gelman, executive chef of Momofuku Toronto.
Gelman likes sunchokes' versatility and the intensely sweet caramelized flavours so easily coaxed from their sugar-rich flesh.
At Momofuku Daisho, Gelman created potato/sunchoke gnocchi, garnishing them with truffled sunchoke purée, and substituted sunchokes for potatoes in salt-cod brandade purée. At Momofuku Shoto, Gelman juiced the root veg to fashion a coriander-scented consommé accessorized with foie gras terrine.
Carl Heinrich, executive chef and co-owner of Toronto's Richmond Station restaurant, prizes sunchokes for their artichoke-like flavour and potato-like texture. He stuffs baked sunchokes into perogies or into filled pastas. Heinrich slices sunchokes razor-thin, salts and deep-fries them and pairs the chips with beef carpaccio.
For the home cook, "If you can cook a potato, you can cook a sunchoke," he said, adding that simple roasting works well. He also suggested steamed and puréed sunchokes added to mashed potatoes, and soups built on the puréed tuber.