This ginger look-alike, hard-to-peel root has many names in English among which I like sunchoke or sunroot the best. I liked the sun in those names but never really understood why a root that probably never sees the sun has that name, but then I saw the plant; it looks like, I thought, sunflower, and to my surprise it apparently is related to the sunflower plant. It is called yer elması, i.e. “earth apple,” what French call potato, in Turkish.
Sunchokes, although not very common Turkey-wide, are very common in the Aegean and in Istanbul. The sunchoke season here in Northern California and in Turkey run from late November to to early Spring, and you can find them in stores and at farmers’ markets. They are great in Turkish olive oil dishes (here’s a recipe with orange juice) or raw in salads. This low in calorie, high in fiber root is quite rich when it comes to health benefits. It has a distinct sweet rooty and slightly nutty flavor, but it is not for everyone. I’m the only one who likes it cooked in my house. So you need to try and see whether you like it simmered in olive oil or raw, or like it at all. Below is a very traditional olive oil dish recipe.
serves 4 people
1 lb sunchokes, peeled and left as a whole or diced
1 lb baby or regular potatoes
1/2 lb pearl onions peeled or one medium onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, diced or halved or 1 cup baby carrots
1/3 cup olive oil (yep, it is an olive oil dish and the amount is normal)
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 bunch fresh dill
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup water
-The hardest part of the recipe; peel the sunchokes. It is easier to peel them when left in water for 20-30 minutes beforehand. Leave them as they are or dice them.
-Put olive oil in a medium size pot on medium heat.
-When heated add pearl onions and sugar. Stir for 4-5 minutes until softened. Do not let them brown.
-Add sunchokes, carrots, potatoes, and half of the dill bunch, unchopped, for flavor.
-Stir for a minute.
-Add water, lemon juice, and salt.
-First let it boil, and then simmer it on low heat covered for 30-40 minutes, until cooked. If unsure, pierce sunchokes with a knife.
-Let the dish cool down in its pot with the lid on. Transfer to a serving plate only after cooled down.
-Serve with finely chopped fresh dill on top.
*This is an olive oil dish; it should be served at room temperature or cold. Olive oil dishes tend to taste even better the next day.
*I do like sunchokes in olive oil in round shapes, but you can cube or dice all the ingredients. It’s just a matter of presentation.
For a non-traditional, or an almost Turkish, twist try with a splash of balsamic vinegar.