BRAISED SUNCHOKES

I had never heard of a sunchoke (also called Jerusalem artichoke) until my first bite during my stage (aka internship) at The Spotted Pig. Their fall menu featured an escarole salad with roasted sunchokes, bitter parsley, capers, and a creamy and bright lemon dressing. It was one of the best, simplest salads of my life and the humble sunchoke was the unremitting star. When roasted, the skin caramelizes and becomes mushy from the inside out with a tiny crunch on the outer skin. Both salty and sweet, the taste and texture is like nothing else and goes great sliced raw in salads, braised or roughly smashed with cream or pureed into a soup with leeks. (Hint: consider these anytime you're thinking of serving mashed potatoes.)

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Between late fall to early spring, if you're out east or up north, you've probably overlooked them at your Farmers’ Market without thinking too much. The knobby root vegetable has picked up steam and attention in recent years and for good reason. Aside from being super versatile in terms of cooking and prep time, sunchokes offer huge health benefits. One serving contains 42% of your daily iron (the highest among all root vegetables), high in electrolytes and potassium, and contains one of the finest sources of dietary fibers. It is also rich in a polysacharide called inulin which is a great natural balancer of sugar, cholesterol, and weight. Diabetics, I'm looking at you! These little tubers don't need much. Salt, pepper, herbs, olive oil, a little butter, and vinegar to spoon over them is all you need. Make sure you have a vegetable peeler, a paring knife, and tongs handy. 

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INGREDIENTS

2 lbs sunchokes

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher or sea salt

Fresh ground black pepper

4 sprigs of thyme (rosemary works too)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

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METHOD

Fill a big bowl with cold water. Peel them as best you can, cutting off any knobs to make them as similar in size for even cooking. Half any that are too big or cut off any knobs making them uniform for a mouthful, about 2 inches long. Drop into the water to prevent browning. Strain and dry.

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Put a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add oil, sunchokes, 1/3 cup water, season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook for 15-20 mins. Every 5 minutes, uncover the lid and turn each one over so it browns evenly on all sides. Each side will brown and caramelize. You want it almost burnt. If you smell burning, turn down the heat a little and move the knobs over to brown on another side and cover. It sounds a little tedious but with such little cooking time it's worth it, I promise.

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Press the sunchokes with tongs. When they're almost mashable and fork tender, transfer to a plate. Be patient. Some might take longer than others. Add thyme and butter to the skillet until butter foams and starts to brown, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, add vinegar, and let it reduce. With a spatula scrape any bits from the bottom and move sauce around to prevent burning. Remove from heat and spoon over the sunchokes.

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Top with fresh thyme leaves and serve warm, room temperature, or chilled. 

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