The Jerusalem artichoke is a vegetable that isn't actually an artichoke, but rather a tuber member of the sunflower family. Also known as sunflower chokes and sunchokes, the Jerusalem artichoke at first glance looks like gingerroot or a potato. It takes its name not from the town of Jerusalem, but from the Italian word girasole, meaning sunflower.
Home cooks like to make Jerusalem artichokes because after peeling, the sunchoke reveals crisp white flesh that has a sweet and nutty flavor that is equally delicious served raw or cooked. Availability is best for this vegetable from October through July. Many diabetics enjoy including Jerusalem artichokes on their menus because this tuber contains a carbohydrate that provides a good source of fructose.
Jerusalem artichokes can be found in the fresh produce section of your local supermarket, where they are often packaged in cellophane under the name sunflower or sunroots. The best Jerusalem artichokes are firm when handled without any soft or mushy spots. Pass on purchasing any Jerusalem artichokes that appear shriveled or wrinkled.
After purchase, Jerusalem artichokes don't need refrigeration and can be stored in a cool, dry place much as you would potatoes for up to 5 days. For maximum nutritional value, don't peel Jerusalem artichokes; rather, leave the thin skin in place and simply wash under running water and brush off any surface dirt with a vegetable brush. If you find any soft spots, cut out with a paring knife.
Now, put your cleaned Jerusalem artichokes into a bowl filled with cold water and a tablespoon or two of lemon juice to prevent their white flesh from darkening until you are ready to use them in your recipe.
Jerusalem atichokes can be steamed or boiled in much the same fashion as you would baby red potatoes, by cooking them until tender, then serving them tossed in butter or margarine with chopped herbs such as chives, dill or rosemary for added flavor as a side dish to meat or poultry. Cooked Jerusalem artichokes can also be mashed with butter and a little cream, then whipped and served as a vegetable side dish instead of traditional mashed potatoes. Try them steamed, then batter-dipped and lightly fried as a delicious appetizer offering.
Jerusalem artichokes can also be sliced very thinly and served raw as a crispy addition to crudite appetizer platters with sour cream dip. Their mildly nutty flavor and crisp texture makes them a good substitution for water chestnuts in a variety of Asian dishes, especially in stir-fries.