Jerusalem Artichokes


It’s not everyday that one gets to discover a whole new, previously unpublished vegetable. It’s not everyday that this new vegetable seems to belong to a little tribe of bulb-headed, purple-hooded munchkins. And it’s not everyday that said munchkins turn out to have a delightful taste, halfway between an artichoke and a sweet potato.

As I’m well aware, topinambours (or Jerusalem artichokes) are news only to me : they’ve been around for centuries, mostly used in France to feed cattle (the illustrious Limousin cow in particular). They were also one of the very few vegetables that could be found during the war, and those bad memories led people to turn away from them as soon as things got better, thus condemning the poor topinambour (and she rhymes) to oblivion as a légume oublié, a forgotten vegetable. Thankfully, légumes oubliés are all the rage these days, and they have been turning up again on produce stalls here and there, to the joy of those of us who love a little change and vegetable adventure.

My topinambours were purchased at the Batignolles organic market, where I go on Saturday mornings when I can muster up enough energy to get myself out of the house before noon (don’t you wish you could just go to the market in your pyjamas?), from one of Nicolas’ favorite stands, which have become mine too — always trust the professional’s opinion.

I brushed them with my potato brush (whose qualms about disloyalty I had to soothe), boiled them for roughly twenty minutes until soft (starting in cold water like all root vegetables), peeled off their thick outer skin, and mashed their flesh with a fork. No salt or other seasoning necessary, this purée de topinambour was delicious in its naked simplicity, and would be a perfect and surprising side to game or roasted meat.

  • They’re good in purée, sautés and even fried (I just made that two nights ago, with topinambours that grewed in my little garden).

    There are «topis» (as familiars call them ;-)) varieties that have a skin so soft that you don’t even need to peel it before mashing them into purée. That’s quite convenient!

    I never saw those beautiful pink ones here, but I hope to find them someday! Thanks for sharing with us :)

  • are they really Jerusalem artichokes!! I have never seen a pink-skined variety like this. Cute!

  • estelle

    I like topinanbours very much too but I don’t cook them too often because of their side effects on the organism… similar to those of cabbage. I guess this is partly for this reason they were a sort of nightmare for our grand-parents during the war… Maybe the fact to start to cook them in cold water helps reduce their “strength”…

  • Jerusalem artichoke (known as sun choke in America) is a true native of Nouvelle France and was one of the few vegetables grown by the Indians. It is very good peeled and fried in butter. It is usually available in August-September, or before the ground freezes.

  • Topinamburs are used here in Italy when making a Bagna Cauda, or literally Hot Bath, a cooked mixture of olive oil, butter, garlic, and anchovies.(!) I also use them when recipes call for water chestnuts as I have been unable to locate an asian market in my area.

    Incidentally, I found them mentioned in the book ‘Five Quarters of the Orange’. Kudos on your site!

  • patricia

    2 months ago, I took a cooking class at ADF (Alain Ducasse Formation) and in one of the recipe they used topinambour it was surprisingly delicious when mixed with other vegetables in the Wok.
    it is good to remember forgotten vegetables, it changes our cooking routine with potato and carrot!

  • They’re simply delicious (try adding a few when you make mashed potatoes).
    As far as trivia goes, did you know that they are also called “poire de terre”?

  • pie

    I love topis too, but agree with Estelle — they tend to have an unpleasant (er, gassy) effect on the body, and I hesitate to eat them with anyone other than family members and very close friends. Does anyone know of a cooking technique that might ease the pain?

  • Tenaya

    Interestingly, just a few weeks ago the New York Times food section featured a recipe for Jerusalem Artichoke Pancakes. If you’re interested:

  • I love Jerusalem Artichokes. They are delicious, and have some nutritional benefits that make them a really great addition to a meal — they are high in potassium and iron, and also contain a carbohydrate that is diabetic-friendly. One farmer that I met at a farmer’s market said that they are particularly good for women.

  • Luisa

    Just yesterday, I had a plateful of crispy, crunchy roasted Jerusalem artichokes – they were incredible. Heat the oven to high heat (as if you were going to make roast potatoes), toss the sliced and peeled vegetables with good olive oil and generous sea salt and roast until meltingly tender on the inside and crispy, caramelized on the outside (probably around 45 minutes?). Yum.

  • Pat

    Thank you so much for a very enjoyable website. I recently discovered your blog, and I’ve fixed several of your recipes so far. Wonderful! Thanks for generously sharing your good humor, your knowledge and your obvious love of great food and cooking.

  • becky

    mmm, sunchokes. I love how they’re so nutty tasting. Peeling them, I do not like so much!

  • I’ve never seen them in pink/red. I’ve only seen them in a golden color.

    They are delicious, but what a pain to peel. I used them in a root vegetable gratin last Christmas.

  • Erin

    As a west coast transplant I am used to calling them jerusalem artichokes. I do enjoy eating them sliced, grilled with some olive oil and sea salt.

  • JoYa

    Bonjour Clotilde,
    J’ai enfin pu avoir une table la semaine dernière chez “L’homme tranquille” rue des martyrs. Quelle adresse ! Enfin, dans le coin, la possibilité de me régaler d’une cuisine de famille digne des meilleures et je ne parle pas de la gentillesse du patron qui m’a demandé comment j’avais connu son restau et à qui je n’ai pu m’empêcher de parler de ton blog :) Encore merci et toutes mes félicitations pour l’article dans le NYT et le succès du Bar à veloutés.

  • Rainey

    To pie: the gassy effect of beans can be mitigated by putting a bit of ground ginger in the soaking and/or the cooking water. The flavor of a little ginger is virtually indescernable in beans but a more pronounced flavor might be a nice accent to sunchokes.

    clotilde: We enjoy sunchokes here in SoCal but I’ve never seen a pink/violet variety either. I like slices just lightly sauteed to eliminate the “raw” but leave some of the “tooth”.

  • cpr

    I planted a few about 10 or 15 years ago in my parents’ vegetable garden, and every year since then they have been growing like crazy all by themselves. I think they grow just like potatoes, propagating themselves year after year, and more and more! Very tall stalks. The vegetables on the West Coast (at least in their garden) are not pink as in your picture, more like a tan color. We only dig them up once a year at Thanksgiving. We roast them in olive oil, sea salt, pepper and chopped fresh rosemary. Yum!

  • They make a nice soup, too, blended, with potatoes and cream – and a little chili, perhaps? They’ve had a ‘revival’ i Denmark, too, they started showing up a couple of years ago – fortunately!

  • Gwen

    Hi Clotilde,
    I agree with Anja, they make extraordinary veloutés :) Isn’t that fit ? Last year, my some-day-to-be-mother-in-law made a velouté de topinambours, with a divine surprise swimming in it: paper-thin truffle slices !
    That’s very expensive, but perhaps a few drops of truffle oil in each cup can work too, or simply storing a truffle with the “topis” in an airtight container for a few days (it works wonders with eggs) can pass on the flavor. Then you can use the truffle for something else, and you don’t need an big one.

  • Zan

    I’ve got a whole buncha jerusalem artichokes out in my garden, but I’ve never seen the pink ones-those are pretty, I wonder if they taste different?

  • andrea

    If you want something absolutely to die for — but admittedly rich — try Anne Willen’s Topinambours aux noix in French Regional Cooking… (p, 209)

  • Dear Clotilde,

    Your archive feature is my favorite widget. You’d been writing C&Z for a good four years before I found it, and I love reaching into the grab bag for a surprise post! I’m always rewarded with a beautiful photo, a few chuckles, and a poetic expression like “légume oublié.” Merci!

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