One could remark of the Jerusalem Artichoke's name something similar to Voltaire's take on the "Holy Roman Empire" which, he argued was "Neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire." The Jerusalem Artichoke is most certainly not an artichoke and is not from Jerusalem.
So how did this unassuming tuber from the sunflower family get its name? This page gives us a history of the North American native root. Explorer Samuel de Champlain, for whom Lake Champlain is named, likened the taste of the root to the taste of an artichoke. If you ask me, Samuel de Champlain had been away from artichokes for a LONG time when he made this observation. The "Jerusalem" part comes from a corruption of the French word for "turning to the sun" - "girasole".
These nutty roots are also known as sunchokes, though I'm not sure the word "choke" is all that appetizing as part of the name of a perfectly serviceable foodstuff. Another name I've seen is Iroquois Potato, but that seems to be falling out of favor.
I'm a big fan of the flavor of Jerusalem artichokes. Their texture is crisp and moist like a water chestnut or jicams, and the flavor is like a slightly nutty potato. I've used them in gratins before and when I came across a recipe for a soup based on sunchokes, I jumped at it.
The only problem is that sunchokes are hard to find this time of year. I visited or called eight separate grocery stores before I finally found one (a big Whole Foods on North Avenue in Chicago) that had them in stock.
Peeling these little roots is time consuming, but otherwise, this is a quick soup that delivers with a pleasant elegant flavor.
If you've never had Jerusalem Artichokes before, go slow on sampling the vegetable raw. Some people react poorly to the inulin in these vegetables, and if you don't eat salsify or sunchokes much you may need to slowly adjust to this form of starch. Reactions vary, but gassiness and rumbling are not unknown. Cooking helps to eliminate some of these negative effects.
Sunchokes are loaded with iron, potassium, niacin, and thiamine, and are reputed to promote healthy mineral absorbtion, cardiovascular health and proper fat and sugar digestion. Personally, I eat them because I think they're delicious.
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
2 lbs. Jerusalem artichokes, peeled or scrubbed very well
1 stalk celery, diced
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups milk
Chop the Jerusalem Artichokes roughly, into about 1/2" pieces.
Heat olive oil in a stock pot. Over medium heat, sautee onions, garlic, and celery for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add Jerusalem artichokes and continue for 5 more minutes, still stirring occasionally.
Add the stock and taste for seasoning. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Bring the stock up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer covered for 20 minutes or until Jerusalem artichokes are very soft.
Blend the soup either with an immersion blender or in a food processor until smooth. Stir and taste. Adjust salt and pepper.
Add milk, stir, and heat through until warm again.
Serve with two slices of toasted gruyere-topped baguette floating in each bowl.