Last weekend while shopping for whatever-vegetables-look-best, I realized to my utter delight that sunchoke season has arrived in Finland – and promptly purchased a bag. Sunchokes (aka topinambours, Jerusalem artichokes, jordärtskocka in Swedish or maa-artisokka in Finnish) are one of my favorite-ever vegetables, for reasons more than their – remarkable and awesome as they are! – culinary qualities. Not only are they utterly delicious, both raw, sauteed, and in soup, but they are also decently rich in Iron, Phosphorus and Vitamin B1, contain other B-group vitamins, and, despite being wonderfully filling, are very low in digestible carbohydrates, which makes them a darling of anyone avoiding excess carbohydrates in their diet.
An important thing to know about sunchokes is that despite looking like most long-keeping root vegetables (potatoes, turnips, carrots, etc.), they are, in fact, extremely seasonal and should be eaten very fresh. When kept too long, their flesh tends to ‘rust’ due to high Iron content where damaged (and they bruise easily), and their flavor and texture both degrade. It’s also important that when fresh, their skin needs no more than a washing with a scrubbing sponge, and can then be ignored, but turns tough and fibrous, not to mention unattractively brown, with time. To sum it up, they are fresh and ready in Finland now, and now is when you should eat them – sort of like strawberries, they are great when they are local and when it is their time, and mediocre-or-worse otherwise.
So how should you eat them? Well, their root-vegetable appearances really belies their flavor and texture, which, when fresh and raw, resembles nothing more than a water chestnut and sunflower seeds (latter makes perfect sense, because sunchokes are tubers of a flower in the sunflower family), and are absolutely great eaten just as they are, washed and sliced into a salad. Sunchoke flavor also marries exceptionally well with umami-type savories. It goes great with cream in soups, or with mushrooms and mild quinoa or spelt grains in warm dishes, both raw and sauteed, and I have heard they are also lovely roasted in wedges but I haven’t tried that yet (note to self, try!).
The ones that I have bought were exceptionally young and fresh, and I needed lunch in a hurry (do you perceive a trend here yet?), so making a raw sunchoke salad was a no-brainer. Sunchokes, due to their flavor, don’t actually need a complicated dressing – a light drizzle of olive oil and a powdering of some dried herbs and they are good. And, have I mentioned that they work great with cheese?
What you need to make this: (serves 2 as a filling but not hugely heavy lunch)
- 5-8 sunchokes (less if they are very large, but I didn’t weigh them), scrubbed, rinsed and toweled dry, ends trimmed, sliced into 3-4mm thick rounds
- A large handful of cherry tomatoes (halved) or 2 medium tomatoes (chopped)
- A large handful of baby spinach or other fresh greens, washed and dried (or out of washed-and-ready-to-eat packet)
- Good olive oil, about a tablespoon
- Frying oil such as refined rapeseed, peanut or ‘light’ olive oil, about a tablespoon
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano or a few leaves of fresh oregano, chopped
- 1 block of Halloumi cheese, drained and sliced
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes (optional)
What you do:
- Set a large nonstick pan on medium-high heat and add the tablespoon of frying oil to it.
- Toss the spinach, tomatoes and sunchokes into a bowl.
- Rub some dried oregano leaves over, or add fresh oregano. Drizzle with olive oil.
- Once pan is hot, put your halloumi slices into it, sprinkle with chili flakes, and let them heat through and sizzle until they are swelling a bit, porous and turning golden on the underside.
- Flip the slices and add more chili flakes if you like.
- Once golden, remove from heat (halloumi burns really easily) and put onto plates.
- Toss the sunchoke salad and serve alongside.
This is very quick, supremely easy (hey, halloumi is easier to fry than eggs – which, by the way, would work great here if you prefer them to the fried cheese!), and utterly delicious, with bright fresh flavors and great crunch from the sunchokes. Enjoy them while they last!
Obviously, this is vegetarian, unless you choose to add meat to it, and – for my friends with Coeliac disease! – naturally gluten-free. I have not changed my views, and I still don’t, and probably won’t ever advocate gluten-free diets for people who aren’t allergic to it.