Sunchokes (For 12/10) $5.76/ lb

1.0 lb

A sunchoke is a woody-looking tuberous formation found on the rhizome (horizontally growing underground stem) of a type of sunflower. Its rough pale-brown skin makes it somewhat akin to fresh ginger in appearance, but you're more likely to see it broken up into individual pieces at the market, rather than in a single intact piece with branching fingers, like ginger. The interior of the sunchoke is creamy white instead of yellow.

Also unlike ginger, its flavor is mild, similar to that of a potato or jicama, but nuttier and sweeter. It reminds me of the slightly bark-y taste of raw, unskinned hazelnuts, which I've adored since I was a kid. Just me? It's like wood shavings, but good.

Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer of North America, compared the flavor to that of an artichokeā€”hence part two of the erroneous name, although it does share a botanical family with artichokes. Where the "Jerusalem" part came from is less clear, but most people think it's a corruption of girasole (pronounced "jeer-uh-SOLE-ay"), the Italian word for "sunflower." A New World plant, cultivated on the North American continent for thousands of years before Europeans arrived, it certainly has nothing to do with Jerusalem.

Sunchokes' peak season is during the fall and spring. When shopping, seek out firm 'chokes with a light-brown color, free of soft spots that indicate damage. They're more fragile than their rugged look would have you believe, so store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, wrapped in paper towels to absorb moisture, and try to use them within seven to 10 days.