Farmers' Market Spotlight of the Week: Jerusalem Artichokes, a.k.a. Sunchokes

Cooler temperatures mean that the City Hall Farmers Market is open once again and that more Houstonians will be heading out to enjoy the many other excellent farmers' markets across the city. Each week, we'll be spotlighting a produce pick from the Urban Harvest network of farmers' markets by showing you how to select it, what makes it special and what to do with it.

You may have seen sunchokes on the menu at Houston restaurants such as Backstreet Cafe and Brasserie 19. But do you know what they are? I didn't until a few years ago -- and I wasn't alone in my ignorance.

"I would venture to say that 90 percent of customers do not know what they are or how to prepare them," says Urban Harvest market manager Tyler Horne. "Thankfully, I see the farmers spending a lot of time telling their customers how to prepare them."

Sunchokes -- also known as Jerusalem artichokes -- are now in season and Animal Farm will have its very own, locally grown sunchokes at the Eastside Farmers Market this coming Saturday.

Lest you think that the name of the sunchoke implies that the vegetable does something terrible like strangle the lightness around it, Horne explains that it's just a sort of rough-sounding portmanteau: "They got their name because the flower of the plant resembles a sunflower and the edible root tastes similar to artichokes," he says.

It's been suggested that sunchokes eaten on a regular basis can stabilize the blood sugar levels in diabetes patients by creating a natural insulin effect. Sunchokes are also a good source of iron and Vitamin B1 and even manage to sneak in 2 grams of protein per serving.

The texture of a sunchoke is similar to that of raw potatoes. But unlike potatoes, they're much sweeter and can be served raw. Roasting sunchokes remains the most common cooking method, however, because the process enhances the root's natural sweetness. You can also, however, go high-end like Backstreet and Brasserie 19 do: boil those sunchokes and turn them into a fancy puree for your next dinner party.

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Katharine Shilcutt