Smashed Sunchokes with Thyme & Butter

We’re getting the new year off to a great foraging start. I discovered a new favorite way to serve sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus), with a recipe that is seasonal and local, AND I have mastered the secret to enjoying these tasty tubers with a minimum of intestinal perturbations the following day. (You can find the recipe here.)

Who says you can’t forage in the dead of winter? If you know where the sunchokes were, you can still find them, thanks to the stalks sticking out even through a blanket of snow.

Sunchokes buried in snow
Sunchokes buried in snow

OK, maybe I am cheating because this is my backyard. I was able to dig up a pound of tubers from the frozen mud, and even found a peanut buried by a local squirrel.

Sunchokes (and a peanut) dug up from the frozen mud
Sunchokes (and a peanut) dug up from the frozen mud

Sunchokes aren’t the only seasonal and local ingredient. I planted creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) a few years ago as an edible ground cover to help with erosion, and it thrives despite the frigid temperatures and snow.

Creeping thyme in the snow
Creeping thyme in the snow

Unfortunately, all is not well with my little sunchoke patch. I mentioned a few months ago how part of the patch looked unhealthy, perhaps due to overcrowding. However, it appears the real problem lurks not just beneath the soil, but within the tubers themselves.

Infested sunchoke tuber
Infested sunchoke tuber

Ewwwwww. I found evidence of insect habitation in a lot of the sunchokes I harvested, and a significant number of them had to be discarded. I spoke with a professional landscaper earlier this year, who mentioned how their business has evolved over his career because winters are no longer as cold as they used to be. The warmer winters mean insects and fungal pests don’t “reset” each year, and causing more damage the following growing season. This could be why I’m encountering more insect-chewed tubers this year compared to previous.

Although… the temperatures the past week have been bitterly cold, so maybe the insect situation will improve next year. I will continue to harvest the sunchokes vigorously, and maybe I can remove all the infested bits and create enough space between the remaining tubers that the culprit cannot reach them all.

But I digress.

The real reason you read this far is to learn the secret to enjoying sunchokes with a minimum of, ah, noisiness afterwards. Sunchokes contain inulin, a water-soluble indigestible fiber that makes your gut bacteria very happy. They feast on the inulin and release gas as a biproduct, which in turn makes you release gas. To prevent this, an hour or so before you start cooking, soak the chokes in water. Ensure the tubers are completely submerged, and change the water at least twice. Last year, I thought the secret was apple cider vinegar, but this season I have only used water, and it works marvelously. The water soluble inulin…. dissolves into the water. As I’m cutting and cleaning the sunchokes, I drop them in a bath where they wait patiently until I’m ready to cook. Changing the water helps make sure the water doesn’t become so saturated with the inulin that more can’t leach out. (It’s a diffusion thing… hey look, I actually used high school science!)

Some authors suggest boiling the sunchokes is enough to remove the inulin. However I highly recommend soaking them first, even if the recipe calls for boiling as one of the steps (like this one does).

To summarize the recipe, you boil the (presoaked) sunchokes for about 10 minutes. I should have let mine cook longer, because I struggled to smash the drained tubers with the bottom of a pot. You then (gently) put the flattened chokes in a hot pan of cooking oil.

Smashed sunchokes frying in oil

(I might’ve put the butter and thyme in earlier than the recipe called for.)

After they’ve cooked for several minutes on the fist side, you flip them….

The finished sunchokes, ready to devour

And they develop this irresistible crispy texture that made it very difficult to get any photos because we devoured almost all of them at once! My husband asked whether they should be served with ketchup, but there was no need. They were amazing to eat just as they were.

Smashed sunchokes with thyme and butter
Smashed sunchokes with thyme and butter

I might try using the air fryer next time I make this recipe… but maybe not! No reason to mess with perfection.

What are you foraging in these early weeks of the new year?

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