04 February 2014

Moroccan Spiced Sunchokes


Did you know that in French sunchokes are called tompinabours? Toommmm-pinA-bourrrrs. I feel like I should be saying it while sporting a feathered cap. So the legend goes that French explorers from the New World would bring things back to display at the French court -- vegetables, animals, grains, people. And an Indian tribe called something sounding like Tompinabour were on display at the court at the same time as the sunchokes, and the names got mixed up, and that was that.

Leaving aside questions of colonial exploitation, sunchokes were quickly adapted into French cuisine, and presumably made their way to Algeria. In Algeria you're more likely to hear them called batata tefs in Arabic, where they might be used in a stew like a tagine.

I've called this dish "Moroccan spiced" sunchokes only because experience has taught me that anything "Moroccan" sells a lot better than anything "Algerian" or vaguely "North African." (I routinely have to explain to people that it's ALgeria, not NIgeria, which is always disconcerting when you're making a flight reservation.) Anyway, this spice mix would be at home across North Africa, where caraway seeds, ginger, and turmeric are staple ingredients. Caraway seeds are an under-used pantry item is you ask me, so here's your chance to dig yours out of the cupboard and put them to good use. This is an easy weeknight side dish to whatever you're serving for dinner.

Moroccan Spiced Sunchokes
I prefer to leave my sunchokes unpeeled, I like their texture better that way. If there are small crevices where you can't wash the dirt away, just trim that area with a knife to remove any dirt.

1 bag of sunchokes (about 20 medium), washed well and quartered
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Mix together the spices and the salt in a small bowl.
2. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in the bottom of a heat-proof skillet (cast iron is great) over medium-high heat. Add the spices and fry the spices until bubbling and fragrant. Add the sunchokes and stir to coat with the spice mixture. Let the sunchokes cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned in spots and starting to soften, about 10 minutes.
3. Transfer the pan to the oven and let roast 7-10 minutes, or until the sunchokes are tender when pierced with a knife but not soggy. There's nothing worse than a soggy sunchoke! Your sunchokes may take longer depending on their size and density. Remove from the oven and serve warm.


Munya said...

I know exactly what you mean. Just like how harissa in the U.S. is usually marketed as a Moroccan spice (probably because no one knows where Tunisia is!)
People seem to think that I'm saying Indonesia or Tanzania and when coming home from Dublin recently, I had a U.S. customs officer thoroughly inspect my American passport pages, read where I was born, and say, "Hmph, so you were born in Tanzia, huh?" (That's a first, I have to say.)
I'm looking forward to trying your "Moroccan" spiced sunchokes!

Mercedes said...

Munya -- ha! Hilarious. Having just returned from Morocco, I have to say that they do a lot of things well, but Tunisian harissa is still by far the best! Algerian harissa is second in my opinion, though we have a good guy we buy from in the market here.