Jerusalem artichoke, sunroot, earth apple, girasole.
Native to North America, these the tubers (roots) come from a certain breed of sunflower. Each weed-like plant can grow as many as 200 tubers along it's root system making it a very productive crop. Because of their high carbohydrate content and impressive yield per acre, they're being considered as an alternate to corn for making ethanol. They are not related to the artichoke and have no ties to Jerusalem, although they do have a similar texture to artichoke heart when cooked.
What's it taste like?
When eaten raw, sunchokes have a satisfying crispness similar to jicama or waterchestnuts. They're sweet, and are not as starchy as a potato. When cooked they soften up and impart a sweet nutty flavour to dishes they are added to.
Where do I get it?
While they used to be relegated to farmers markets, sunchokes are becoming more popular and you may find them in the produce section of upscale supermarkets.
When is it best?
Sunchokes are perennials, so they should be available all year long. Look for relatively uniform tubers that are free of any big blemishes and are firm when squeezed. The skin should be taut without any softness, wrinkling or pink discolorations.
How do I use it?
They are delicious in salads (Sunchoke with Warm Butter Lemon Dressing, Mizuna Sunchoke Salad with Shiitake Salmon) and make a nice carpaccio when thinly sliced. They also make a good substitute for jicama and water chestnut and can be added to stir-fries, soups and stews.
Sunchokes are high in dietary fiber and iron, niacin and potassium.