All About Sunchokes: A Delicious First Food

a baby's hand reaches into a bowl of sunchokes cooked in duck fat on a marble background

When shopping for groceries, you may spy a knobby root that looks like ginger in the produce section. While they can be eaten raw like ginger, sunchokes taste nothing like the spicy rhizome—and they are much more versatile in the kitchen. We asked Kaskite Wastim Scott Iserhoff, father of Yaroslava Ishkotayow and a fan of Solid Starts, to tell us all about this delicious tuber.

Q: Let’s start with the basics for those who are new to it: what is a sunchoke?

Sunchokes are called Otisekanashah in my language – Omushkegowin (Swampy Cree). The name loosely translates to “little bellybuttons” because of how the roots look. I think it’s a beautiful name because roots in Mother Earth directly relate to birth and growth—like bellybuttons. Sunchokes are bulbous roots of wild sunflower plants that originated on Turtle Island, which is what we call North America. They can grow in the wild and also be cultivated quite easily at home. We grow them in our yard, and so do many people in our community.

Q: How do you describe the taste?

In terms of texture, they are similar to potatoes and turnips. In terms of taste, I would say that they are nutty and fatty but also have an earthy sharpness to them. If you ever try a sunflower seed and a sunflower petal together—this is how the root would taste. They also are just a little bit sweet.

Q: So, can you cook sunchokes like potatoes?

We do cook them like potatoes, as they are so versatile. Roast them, boil them, mash them, pan-fry them, make them into chips, as well as eat them raw or pickled. If you are new to sunchokes and decide to try them raw, I would suggest having them in small amounts at first to let your body and tastebuds get used to them.

Q: Sunchokes are among the first foods that you introduced to your baby. Can you share why?

As a Mushkego Napeo (Indigenous Man), I am trying my best to decolonize my diet, as well as introduce our baby to Indigenous foods that our people have eaten for thousands of years prior to European contact. This food is her heritage. It is also a sustainable way of eating, as we like to grow our own food or harvest whenever we have a chance. Otisekanashah have an interesting taste but also are really healthy and aid digestion. I think it’s a great first food for babies, but also for adults as well.

Scott and Yaroslava harvest sunchokes.
Scott explains how to cook sunchokes.
Scott and Yaroslava enjoy their meal together.

Recipe: Duck Fat Sunchokes

Yield: 3 cups (720 milliliters)

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Age: 6 months+

Kaskite Wastim Scott Iserhoff likes to prepare sunchokes in rendered duck fat when cooking for himself and his baby, Yaroslava. The cooking oil is high in flavor and low in saturated fat, with a smoke point that’s perfect for baking tubers. Scott suggests pairing sunchokes with sour cream or yogurt, which not only taste delicious with the earthy tubers, but offer plenty of natural acidity. This helps offset the sunchoke’s carbohydrates called inulin, which helps our bodies develop a healthy digestive system and can cause gassiness in some individuals.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound (454 grams) sunchokes
  • 1 tablespoon (14 grams) duck fat
  • 1 teaspoon (2 grams) paprika (optional)
  • salt to taste for adults and older children (optional: 12 months+)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius).
  2. Wash the sunchokes to remove any grit.
  3. Sunchoke skins are edible, and when they are freshly picked, the skin is so delicate and thin that it does not need to be peeled. That said, go ahead and remove it if the skin seems too thick.
  4. Cut any larger sunchokes into halves or quarters, so that the tubers are relatively even in size, which helps promote even cooking.
  5. Melt the duck fat, then drizzle it over the sunchokes. Stir to coat the tubers.
  6. If you like, season the sunchokes with paprika for extra flavor. Optionally, skip the spice or swap for your favorite spice.
  7. Spread the sunchokes in an even layer on a sheet tray or skillet. Bake until a knife easily inserts into the thickest part of a sunchoke, between 20 and 25 minutes, depending on the size.
  8. Set aside some sunchoke for baby and cut them into age-appropriate sizes. Exact serving size varies. Let the child decide how much to eat.
  9. Season sunchokes for adults and older children with salt to taste. Keep warm while baby’s sunchokes cool to room temperature.
  10. Serve the sunchokes and let the child try to self-feed. If baby struggles to pick up a sunchoke, pass one in the air for the child to grab from you.

To Store: Duck Fat Sunchokes keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 2 months.

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