Helianthus tuberosus is a perennial plant of the sunflower family, with common names such as sunchoke, Jerusalem artichoke, sunroot, topinambur and earth apple, in English, or in Spanish: pataca, alcachofa de Jerusalén, aguaturma, and castaña de tierra. Sunchoke’s swollen tubers have a good amount of protein, and are considered healthy and diabetic-diet friendly, since they contain no oil, and little starch. Most of their energy is stored as a type of inulin, a naturally occurring polysaccharide, which is a nutrient with low hypoglycaemic index; the only foible is that its digestion pattern might be different from person to person, causing variable degrees of bloating (and the invisible, yet odoriferous, consequences, LOL.) Their texture is close to a firm potato when roasted, and crunchy apples or water chestnuts if eaten raw, which explains some of the common names.
These tubers were an important part of the native American diet; considered invasive in the wild, it is hard to pin-point their exact origin, but are believed to have been originally foraged in central regions of Canada and the USA, extending south to former Mexican land, such as Texas, later on also cultivated, and spreading both east and west. Sunchokes were brought to France by explorer Samuel de Champlain in the early 1600s, who found their flavour similar to artichokes (also part of the sunflower family), and many consider that the “Jerusalem” part of the name could be a corruption from the Italian “girasole” (sunflower). The name “topinambur” is also used in Germany, and “topinambour” in France, again for a reason unrelated to the plant: at the same time when sunchokes were introduced, there was an exhibition in France featuring the Tupinambá, a Brazilian ethnic group, so the public put the two together, and the name stayed for good. Sunchokes continued to be grown by settlers in North America and extensively in Europe, but they were eventually forgotten when potatoes and other New World vegetables were introduced. There have been some efforts to bring sunchokes back to the table, served at gourmet restaurants, and there are many recipes around, such as in stews, particularly lamb, mashed, roasted, etc.
It was about a year ago that I enjoyed my last restaurant sit-down dinner, before The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID19 a pandemic, on March 11, 2020. This special meal was during a mini vacation in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, at the Mexican vegan restaurant “Rosalinda”. My choice of meal was “Roasted Sunchoke in Manchamantel Sauce”, a type of mole that is traditionally served with pork or chicken, but which was cleverly modified featuring sunchokes. Back at home, when I developed my version of Manchamanteles, I prepared a batch with chicken and another one vegetarian; since I was not able to find sunchokes anywhere back then, I used a combination of sweet potato, carrots and parsnips, commenting that “I might try to grow them [sunchokes] sometime.” I ordered some sunchoke seed-tubers from a gardening company a while later, listed at $15 CAD (around $12 USD) for half a pound, but many postal and delivery services had been interrupted or disrupted by the now on-going pandemic, and my package never arrived. Fast-forward a year later when, two weeks ago, I was not looking for them, but found sunchokes in the produce section of a local market; I promptly purchased one and a half pounds, as shown in the photo at the top of this post, which only cost around $6 CAD ($4.75USD)! A few of them had funny shapes, almost resembling chicken drumsticks and wings, so I chose them for cooking, and there was even a heart-shaped piece, so I pick that one, as well:
I removed some bumpy spots from these and, along with the remaining four tubers, were placed in soil, in a pot indoors:
I covered the tubers with more potting soil, watered every day, and yesterday, I checked their progress. Two of them had started sprouting (white narrow bumps), and grown several strands of roots, as seen on one of them, in the photo below:
I transplanted to individual pots with soil, and I am hoping they will continue to grow, in which case they will get transplanted to the ground in my backyard in a month or so. I will post an update later in the season.
As for the chicken-look-a-like tubers, I scrubbed them, boiled in water for 10 minutes, and drained. Then, I drizzled with olive oil, and seasoned with salt and freshly grated black pepper:
I arranged them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, and roasted under the broiler for another 20 minutes, turning once halfway:
They were very tasty! Crispy skin, and fluffy, yet firm, inside … and so sweet. They could have been a delicious meal as they were, but I decided to incorporate them as part of a Mexican dish. Stay tuned to see the results in my next post.
For your convenience, click on the images below for products available on Amazon™. There seems to be more sources of sunchoke seed-tubers this year, I hope you have better luck than me last year! DISCLAIMER: Any reviews included in this post are my own, for items I have purchased, not provided by any company; as an Amazon Associates Program affiliate, I might receive a commission for any purchases originated from the links below, at no extra cost to you (thank you to readers who have bought other products starting with a click from my links!):