A couple of weeks ago, I pulled up my sunchoke plant and was greeted with a lovely harvest of the knobby root vegetables. Even though I had been looking forward to that moment all summer, suddenly I felt bewildered. What should I do with them? I haven’t cooked sunchokes in years. So I turned to Google.
Which dropped me down a rabbit hole I had not at all expected — an online journey featuring flatulence and intestinal distress. What I discovered was something I had thankfully been totally unaware of all my sunchoke-eating life. Apparently about 50 percent of people have painful digestive issues fueled by sunchokes — to the point that some of the comments on the recipes I was researching made me cringe. Commenters on some sites cried out that every recipe should come with a written warning that these unassuming tubers could wreck severe havoc on unsuspecting eaters. I was floored.
Some people were so intense that even though I was 99 percent confident in my ability to enjoy sunchokes with no ill effects, I actually became a bit anxious. What if all the times I had eaten them were flukes? What if this time I was part of the wrong half of the population? How would I survive an 8-hour day in a small office with that type of reaction? Finally I set my nerves aside, picked up my knife and got cooking.
The first thing to do was prep the sunchokes — I wasn’t too thorough with the peeling because they were so young and fresh. But I peeled as much of the outside off as I could and gave them a very good scrubbing as well. Then I sliced them about a quarter of an inch thick. (Hint: If you won’t be cooking the sunchokes immediately, but you have them prepped, soak them in lemon water or milk to prevent discoloration.)
The best thing to do with these guys is keep it simple — salt, pepper, butter and a hot enough pan to get them brown and crispy. Just be careful not to burn them! Once they are caramelized and tender, but still a hair al dente, pull them from the heat. They will be sweet, nutty and buttery. They will be divine.
As soon as I tasted my first bite, it was actually hard not to keep eating them. The memories of the horrible things I had read were washed from my brain and I lost myself in their addictively delicious taste. However, since I had made a glorious dinner to accompany them, I used all of my willpower to resist eating every last one straight from the pan.
I present to you pork chops, oven-roasted sweet potatoes and carrots, pan-seared sunchokes and porky jus. Perfection! And the best part was the assurance (24-hours later) that I still remain amongst the lucky — a piece of knowledge that I will cling to this fall as sunchoke season is upon us!