Organic agriculture and biodiversity have in recent years brought about a rediscovery of many “forgotten” vegetables that people especially in Europe and France conscientiously tried to forget as they reminded them of the privations suffered during WWII. The same people had then to make do with untraditional vegetables because potatoes, carrots and so on were confiscated by occupying forces or their own armies.
With sustainibility and bioagriculture made more important by the deficiencies of modern mass agriculture, those “forgotten” vegetables have suddenly come to the fore for the pleasure of all, and that of course of vegetarians and vegans!
This particular series of postings will introduce these vegetables one by one. I hope they will become useful for a long time to come to all my vegan and vegetarian friends!
1) Scorsonere/Oyster Plant
The topinambour or Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), also called the sunroot or sunchoke or earth apple, is a species of sunflower native to the eastern United States, from Maine west to North Dakota, and south to northern Florida and Texas. It is also cultivated widely across the temperate zone for its tuber, which is used as a root vegetable.
At a European market
It is a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 1.5–3 m tall.
The leaves are opposite on the lower part of the stem, alternate higher up; the larger leaves on the lower stem are broad ovoid-acute and can be up to 30 cm long, the higher leaves smaller and narrower; they have a rough, hairy texture.
The flowers are yellow, produced in flowerheads 5–10 cm diameter, with 10–20 ray florets, and are thought to smell like milk chocolate.
The tubers are gnarly and uneven, typically 7.5–10 cm long and 3–5 cm thick, and vaguely resembling ginger root, with a crisp texture when raw; they vary in color from pale brown to white, red or purple.
Topinambour Carpaccio Mi-cuit
Despite its name, the Jerusalem artichoke has no relation to Jerusalem, and it is not a type of artichoke, even though both are members of the Daisy family. The origin of the name is uncertain. European settlers called the plant Girasole, the Italian word for sunflower. (The Jerusalem artichoke is a type of sunflower, in the same genus as the garden sunflower Helianthus annuus.) Over time the name Girasole may have been corrupted to Jerusalem. To avoid confusion some people have recently started to refer to it as sunchoke or sunroot.
The artichoke part of the Jerusalem artichoke’s name comes from the taste of its edible tuber. Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer, sent the first samples of the plant to France, noting that its taste was similar to an artichoke.
Topinambour & Carrots Savoury
Jerusalem artichokes were first cultivated by the Native Americans (who called them “sun roots”) long before the arrival of the Europeans; this extensive cultivation makes the exact native range of the species obscure. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain found them being grown at Cape Cod in 1605. The Jerusalem artichoke was titled ‘best soup vegetable’ in the 2002 Nice festival for the heritage of the French cuisine.
CULTIVATION & USES
Unlike most tubers, but in common with other members of the Asteraceae (including the artichoke), the tubers store the carbohydrate inulin (not to be confused with insulin) instead of starch. For this reason, Jerusalem artichoke tubers are an important source of fructose for industry. The crop yields are high, typically 16–20 tonnes/ha for tubers, and 18–28 tonnes/ha green weight for foliage. Jerusalem artichoke also has a great deal of unused potential as a producer of ethanol fuel, using inulin-adapted strains of yeast for fermentation.
Jerusalem artichokes are easy to cultivate, which tempts gardeners to simply leave them completely alone to grow. However the quality of the edible tubers degrades unless the plants are dug up and replanted in fertile soil. This can be a chore, as even a small piece of tuber will grow if left in the ground, making the hardy plant a potential weed.
The tubers, which resemble ginger root, have a consistency much like potatoes, and in their raw form have a similar taste to potatoes except they are crunchier and sweeter with a slightly nutty taste.
Jerusalem artichokes have 650 mg. potassium per 1 cup (150g) serving. They are also high in iron, and contain 10-12% of the US RDA of fiber, niacin, thiamine, phosphorus and copper.
Best season for purchase and cooking is October~March!
In the Baden-Württemberg, Germany, over 90 percent of the Jerusalem artichoke root is used to produce a spirit called “Topinambur”, “Topi” or “Rossler”!