A sunchoke is a tuber, like a potato, and is often prepared and eaten as a root vegetable. Light brown and bumpy on the outside and white inside, the sunchoke looks somewhat like a small potato or ginger root. It is native to North America and was cultivated by Native Americans prior to the arrival of European settlers. Also called a Jerusalem artichoke, its name can be a source of confusion because the plant is not closely related to the artichoke; rather, it is a member of the same flower family as the sunflower. With a nutty, somewhat sweet flavor, many cooks enjoy adding bits of the crunchy, raw vegetable to salads or salsas, while others prefer them roasted or mashed.
There are many recipes that showcase this tuber on its own or with other ingredients. Eaten raw, it is crunchy and very slightly juicy, like water chestnuts or jicama, and is often a welcome addition to salads, crudite platters, and fresh salsas. When cooked, it may be simply tossed with oil and salt and roasted, or boiled and mashed like potatoes. Sunchoke puree is another popular dish, and the tuber is a favorite soup addition, particularly in Europe.
The tuber has been embraced by the home cook and famous chefs for its unique flavor, and as part of a culinary movement to eat locally grown, seasonal ingredients. Many recipes that don’t specifically call for a sunchoke may benefit from the addition of the root’s texture and flavor. Its taste is frequently described as something between an artichoke heart and a sunflower seed.