By April when the Boulder, Colorado farmers’ market starts up, we’re all hungry for fresh and local produce. Even though the selection is small, customers are happy to find overwintered spinach, greenhouse-grown arugula and other greens, a few herbs and sturdy root crops such as turnips and carrots that have survived the winter.
This year Red Wagon organic farm had XXL parsnips the size of small children!We were getting pretty tired of potatoes at home, so when farmer friend Mark asked if I wanted some sunchokes, I decided I needed to figure how to prepare them. I had always shied away from these, aka Jerusalem artichokes, as they have a reputation similar to beans. But I was ready to try something new, even with this atmospheric risk. The book Roots by Diane Morgan turned out to be an comprehensive and tasty guide.
We also had the sunchokes raw as sweet and sour refrigerator pickles and my favorite, slivers in a salad of arugula, farro and feta with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing. And we still have a few left for soup or a mash.
If you have not prepared sunchokes before, here’s a few tips. Scrub well, remove any soft or discolored parts but don’t peel as the skin is very thin and tender. Unless you are going to immediately cook after chopping or slicing, place the pieces into “acidulated water”, that is water to which you’ve added a generous squeeze of lemon juice or splash of vinegar, to prevent the exposed white flesh from browning.
Raw or cooked, sunchokes have a pleasing nutty, somewhat earthy flavor (reminding some people of artichokes) and in the early spring are especially sweet as starches were converted to sugar during cold winter temperatures. The starch in sunchokes is inulin which is not digested in the stomach, but in the intestines so they are a pre-biotic, besides a good source of vitamins B and C, some minerals and fiber. They’re good for you, and I found that they are a very versatile vegetable indeed!