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Jerusalem artichokes

(article, Deborah Madison)

I’ve noticed that for some, the Jerusalem artichoke is not a favorite vegetable. For others it is, while for probably more people than not, Jerusalem artichokes go mostly unnoticed. 

It’s not my mission to try to convince people to change their minds about what they don’t like, whether it’s flute music (my husband’s big dislike) or eggplant. It’s great when someone does discover goodness in what was once considered revolting, but sometimes the revulsion can’t be overcome, and perhaps for good reason. 

I, for example, cannot eat a tamarillo, which to me is like eating a plum crossed with a tomato. My throat and mouth just scream “No!” despite my intentions to be open to new tastes. 

[%image photo float=right width=300 caption="You can make a fine bisque with Jerusalem artichokes."]

But since I like plenty of other foods, I don’t worry about my failure to warm to a tropical fruit I seldom see. 

Jerusalem artichokes, however, are something I do like, for a number of reasons.

The plant is a hearty grower and a prolific producer — great for the not-so-skilled gardener to grow, because it really does grow. Its little sunflowers make it, if not exactly gorgeous, at least a somewhat pretty garden plant. 

The flavor of these tubers is nutty and sweet, but also earthy and clean — a very nice complement of qualities indeed. You needn’t peel them. They cook quickly and they are versatile. 

So if these qualities appeal to you and you don’t know Jerusalem artichokes, you might want to give them a try.

On a recent Saturday, I was shopping at the farmers' market with someone who had never had them before, so we bought a few big, fat clumps. I was making lunch for her and a friend, a caterer, so while things were heating, I sliced a clumpy tuber crosswise into slices about 3/8-inch thick, dropped them into a cast-iron skillet filmed with clarified butter, and cooked them over medium heat, turning every so often until they were golden on both sides. Since I was talking, I didn’t really pay attention to time, but I’d guess they took 12 to 15 minutes to color.  

While they were cooking, I was making a sauce for a lentil soup — a garlic clove pounded with salt, three just-cracked walnuts, and crème fraîche. Thinking it would be good with the tubers, I set the fritter-like pieces on a plate, dabbed a little of the sauce on top, then garnished them with big, fleshy sunflower sprouts, a relative of the tubers. 

The caterer looked at them and said she’d love to serve them as a pass-around. I said I thought they’d be a pretty little first course, and the woman new to Jerusalem artichokes simply reached for one and took a bite. They passed the taste test with flying colors. 

If you, too, are new to this vegetable, you might give them a try. Use olive oil or sunflower-seed oil if you prefer.

Another recipe I love that’s based on Jerusalem artichokes is the bisque in my soup book, Vegetable Soups From Deborah Madison's Kitchen, which is also garnished with the same fleshy sprouts. I once made 12 gallons of it to serve at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York, and the farmers who normally bring these tubers to the market (and then take them home again) sold out that day.

Finally, some people find Jerusalem artichokes hard to digest, especially when raw, so perhaps they are not for those with delicate tummies. If this isn’t you, however, do consider this tuber.

p(bio). Deborah Madison is the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks, including Local Flavors. She lives in New Mexico.

photo, l

reference-image, l