ALL ABOUT JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

With recipes for
Jerusalem Artichoke Gratin
Chicken Salad with Jerusalem Artichokes

Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes
Jerusalem Artichoke and Carrot Salad

History
Where grown
Their varieties
Their seasons
Selection, handling and storage
Nutrition
Yield
Preparation

When I asked the clerk in the produce section of a local supermarket where the Jerusalem artichokes were, he said, "The artichokes are over there, but I have no idea where they came from."

Such is the problem with the misnamed Jerusalem artichoke. Producers of this tuber have tried to overcome the confusion by advertising the product as the sunchoke. On one-pound trays from Frieda's, the Los Angeles specialty produce company, the word Sunchokes stands out in bold letters on a green banner. But underneath that word in less prominent type are the sunchoke aliases: Jerusalem artichokes and topinambours.

And it doesn't stop there. The Jerusalem artichoke is also called girasole and Racine de Tournesol. But not until very recently was it called Sun Roots, which was the name originally given to the tuber by North American Indians, according to Elizabeth Schneider's superb "Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables, A Commonsense Guide" (Perennial Library, 1989).

The prevailing opinion has been that the term Jerusalem artichoke is a corruption of girasole articiocco, meaning "sunflower artichoke" a name which was given to the vegetable by the Italians. However, according to "The Curious Cook" by Harold McGee (North Point Press, 1990), there is evidence that it is instead an English corruption of the Dutch word Terneuzen, the name of a city in the Netherlands where the tuber was grown. It has nothing to do with Jerusalem, although apparently some do grow there.

As for Topinambours, that name came about because a Brazilian Indian tribe called Topinamboux happened to be in Paris about the same time Jerusalem artichokes (or whatever) were arriving. Somehow, street vendors who sold the chokes thought the name was Topinamboux was catchy and stuck it on the tubers, which is a little like giving Florida grapefruit that is sold in Moscow the name Miami Dolphins.

It's not clear why the "x" at the end of the name became an "r." If only we had stuck with the original Indian name, we would have saved a lot of confusion. And we'd be correct. The botanical name of the Jerusalem artichoke is Helianthus tuberosus, meaning that it is from the sunflower family (which it is) and that it's a root (two for two).

I think Jerusalem artichokes look like knobs of fresh ginger. But there is no evidence that anyone else has agreed with me and has given them yet another erroneous name.

HISTORY top

Jerusalem artichokes were part of the cornucopia found by Europeans when they began exploring and settling the New World. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain came upon the tuber in 1605 on Cape Cod while it was being grown by the Eastern Abenaki Indians. According to "The Curious Cook," Champlain described the taste as similar to cardoons, a relative of the globe artichoke. Elizabeth Schneider recounts that Champlain likened the taste to an artichoke or artichoke heart. So here may be the first whiff of name controversy and confusion.

Regardless, the Jerusalem artichoke soon made its way back to France and just as quickly over to Italy. It was a hot item in both places for a while, but it soon went out of favor and eventually was used for livestock feed. The English also took to the Jerusalem artichoke and just as quickly rejected it, in large part because it multiplied like kudzu.

McGee posits two reasons why the Jerusalem artichoke didn't make it as big as the potato, for example. (Canadian potato was yet another moniker given to this vegetable.) First, its flavor is more distinctive than the more neutral potato, relegating it for occasional rather than every day use. Second, and perhaps more important, Jerusalem artichokes cause huge amounts of gas.

WHERE GROWN top

Jerusalem artichokes like cool growing climates. The primary growing areas are Central California, Washington and Minnesota.

VARIETIES top

There are two varieties. The western Jerusalem artichoke is beige and mostly round. The Midwestern or northeastern type is longer and knobbier with a reddish exterior. Both varieties are the same inside.The Jerusalem artichoke looks like a nubby new potato. Inside the dusty brown skin is a creamy white, crisp and sweet interior with a taste that is very much like a water chestnut or perhaps a jicama. (Others liken it to artichoke hearts and salsify.)

Sometimes Jerusalem artichokes are confused with tiny Chinese artichokes which are imported from France. But they are not the same vegetable.

SEASONS top

Technically Jerusalem artichokes are available all year but late spring and summer availability can be spotty. The best time for Jerusalem artichokes is fall and winter. According to "The Essential Root Vegetable Cookbook" by Sally and Martin Stone (Potter, 1991) in areas of the northeast and Midwest, some of the tubers are left in the ground over the winter to be harvested in early spring. The later ones are sweeter, say the Stones. Others disagree, claiming the fall and winter-picked Jerusalem artichokes are best.

SELECTION, HANDLING & STORAGE top

When selecting, choose Jerusalem artichokes that are evenly sized for easier handling. (Though that may be difficult because Jerusalem artichokes are often packaged, and just as often with sizes ranging from that of a golf ball to a knob of ginger.) It should be firm with no wrinkles, green spots, blotches or sprouting. However, protrusions and unevenness on the skin is perfectly fine.

Stored in plastic bags they will keep a week or more in the refrigerator. Jerusalem artichokes that have been cold-stored for a month or more (in the ground or under refrigeration) will have less gas than ones purchased earlier in the season.

NUTRITION top

The Jerusalem artichoke is not exactly a nutritional powerhouse, but it does have two important features. One is that it is low in calories with only 35 per 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces). That, and its sweet crunchiness makes the Jerusalem artichoke a good, low-fat snack for kids and adults alike.

For vegetarians the good news is that Jerusalem artichokes are a good source of iron, with 3.4 mg per serving. That's more than lean ground beef and about 19% of the RDA for iron. A serving also contains 2.3 grams of protein, .1 grams of fat, 16.7 grams of carbohydrates, .8 grams of dietary fiber and 6% of the RDA for vitamin C.

YIELD top

Figure on three or four servings per pound, depending on how much peeling or cleaning is needed and the nature of the dish. One pound yields about 2 cups, sliced or chopped.

PREPARATION top

The major decision to be made when preparing Jerusalem artichokes is which weapon to choose, the scrub brush or the peeler. Scrubbing removes dirt and grit but not all the skin. And it requires some elbow grease. Peeling does remove what some consider the less-than-esthetic skin but small pieces are a chore and scrapes are not uncommon. Pick your poison.

Jerusalem artichokes are extremely versatile because they can be used raw or cooked, whole, diced, sliced or julienned. Try adding them to a roast as you would potatoes or carrots. Or just roast them as you would potatoes for a side dish.

They can be cooked in soups, stews, gratins, or purees with other root vegetables such as potatoes or fennel. They are excellent in stir frys, as a substitute for water chestnuts or as just part of the melange to add sweetness and crunch. Raw Jerusalem artichokes make a refreshing addition to tuna, chicken, or tossed salads. (They won't turn color if cut with a stainless steel knife.) Jerusalem artichokes are also perfect candidates for pickling.

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 JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE GRATIN
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This hearty side dish looks a lot richer than it really is. It makes a good accompaniment to roasts and other meats.

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups hot skim milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon each, grated nutmeg and powdered ginger
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Butter flavor spray
  • 1 pound Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed or peeled and cut into very thin slices
  • 1 pound sweet potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1/2 cup shredded low-fat Jarlsberg cheese
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1) Put butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until soft, a few minutes. Add flour and stir until well incorporated. Add milk and whisk until mixture thickens and is smooth with no flour taste, about 5 minutes. Season with nutmeg, ginger, salt and pepper.

2) Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 2-quart gratin dish with butter-flavor spray. Alternately layer Jerusalem artichokes and sweet potatoes, seasoning each lightly with salt and pepper.

3) Pour cream sauce over, cover with foil and bake about 55 minutes until vegetables are tender. Raise heat to 500. Mix cheese with bread crumbs and parsley. Remove foil, sprinkle gratin with cheese mixture and spray with butter-flavor spray. Return to the oven and bake until top is nicely browned and crusty, 5 to 10 minutes.

Serves 6 to 8.

Sam's Cooking Tip: Jarlsberg Lite is one of the better low-fat cheeses, a good Swiss-style cheese substitute.

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 CHICKEN SALAD WITH JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES
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This dish livens up plain boneless and skinless chicken breasts. It's also a good way to use up leftovers from a holiday turkey.

  • 1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup non-fat sour cream or yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed or peeled
  • 1 pound cooked skinless chicken or turkey breast cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced jalapeno or other hot pepper
  • 1 bunch scallions, trimmed (white and 1 inch of green) and cut into thin slices
  1. Mix first seven ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Cut Jerusalem artichokes into a combination of very thin slices and 11/2-inch match sticks. Combine Jerusalem artichokes, chicken, peppers and scallions in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add dressing and mix well. Refrigerate at least one hour before serving. Bring to room temperature for serving

Serves 6.

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 ROASTED JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES
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Cooked this way, Jerusalem artichokes taste like a cross between turnips and potatoes.

  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed, then chopped
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds Jerusalem artichokes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Put garlic and oil in microwave-safe dish. Cover with a paper towel and cook at half pour for 2 minutes (3 if a low-wattage oven). Set aside.
  2. Peel Jerusalem artichokes and cut into the size of golf balls. Put in a shallow roasting pan large enough to hold all in one layer comfortably. Strain out garlic from oil over the chokes. Add salt and pepper and toss.
  3. Cook about 20 minutes (tossing once or twice) or until tender.

Serves 4.

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 JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE AND CARROT SALAD
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This dish emphasizes the crunchy sweetness of Jerusalem artichokes.

  • 1 pound Jerusalem artichokes, peeled or well scrubbed
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled or well scrubbed and trimmed
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  1. Use the slicing attachment of a food processor to thinly slice the chokes. Then stack the halves and cut julienne. Put the shredding attachment on the food processor and grate the carrots. (An alternative is to slice the chokes by hand and use a hand grater for the carrots.) Put vegetables into a mixing bowl with chives and dill.
  2. Mix remaining ingredients in a cup. Add to vegetables and toss.
  3. Let sit 30 minutes before serving.

Serves 6 to 8

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