Peak season for artichokes is May. How awesome that it’s May right now! I was at Trader Joe’s the other day and saw a large bin of beautiful bright green big artichoke globes. Yummy! So, I got one for my lunch that day.
I realized that many people aren’t comfortable with artichokes. Maybe they don’t know how to cook it. Maybe it just looks intimidating – all big and round. Where do you start? How do you eat it? It isn’t like eating a potato – no knife and fork involved. It’s messy. I mean, what other food (besides maybe ribs) do you put in your mouth and pull out again, and this is considered normal, even polite, to do in front of others.
Well, I’m here to say that artichokes are delish! And, they can be really easy to cook. I usually do mine in the microwave. This is the easiest way. Some people like to dip the leaves in mayo, flavored aioli, or melted butter. Me, I prefer to eat them plain. I like their flavor. And, I don’t like lemon on mine, thank you. Besides, if they’re plain, they are really good for you – all that veggie-ness, yummy-ness, and good for you stuff.
To be more specific, artichokes are high in fiber (with 41% of the RDA for fiber in one medium cooked artichoke), folate, and antioxidants.
When buying them at the store or farmer’s market, get bright green artichokes that seem heavy for their size with tightly closed leaves, and avoid ones that look dry or brown. When the leaves start to open, that means they are starting to go to seed, and, the pretty purple thistle-like flower is starting to come out.
Yes, you will need some time to prep them. They are a little bit of work to cook, and to eat. But, I think their wonderful flavor is worth the effort. I love to have one as a simple lunch with an apple and some spinach salad. They can also be served as a great appetizer for company.
Wash the artichoke under cold water to remove any dirt between the leaves. Next, you’ll trim the artichoke. Cut off about ½ inch of the top. I didn’t do that with the one I purchased from TJ’s- it didn’t need it. This trimming off the top is to get the spiny ends off the leaves. But, this one was such a young artichoke, that I didn’t have many spiky ends to contend with.
Pull off the small leaves on the stem. Then, snip off the spiny tops of the rest of the leaves with a pair of kitchen shears.
Most of the artichoke is edible: the stem, the leaves, the heart inside. And, as you eat the lower leaves off the cooked artichoke, you’ll peel the fibrous part off of the stem, revealing just the soft tasty part of the stem. The only part you can’t eat is the hairy choke inside.
To remove the choke (the part in the center that would become the flower if it were allowed to fully mature), gently pull the leaves from the top to expose the choke (you’ll do this step as you eat the artichoke). Use a spoon to scoop the choke out; gently scoop along the edge of the choke with the spoon, and avoid cutting away the heart. You can also remove the choke before cooking and eating by cutting the artichoke in half and spooning out the hairy choke.
How do I know when it’s done? Slide a fork into the center, if it goes in easily, it’s done. Also, the leaves should have opened a bit, and turned darker in color. You can also pull off a leaf and taste it to be sure it’s tender and fully cooked.
There are many ways to cook an artichoke. Try all of the cooking methods and see which is your favorite, either because it’s easy or because it’s tasty.
Microwave: The microwave is the quickest and easiest way that I’ve found to cook an artichoke, and quite honestly, it’s my favorite way to cook them. It gives a pretty good end product, just be careful not to overcook it as it can dry out the leaves and make it a little tough.
Place the prepared artichoke in a microwave safe bowl that’s large enough to hold the artichoke. Add about 1/3 cup water and cook, covered, with the lid slightly ajar, on high for about 5 minutes. If you’d like to add a little flavoring, place a bay leaf, garlic powder, or lemon juice to the cooking water before microwaving it.
Boil: An easy method, but you’ll lose some of the vitamins and minerals in the boiling water. Be careful not to overcook the artichoke, as it can become soggy and lose flavor. Select a pot large enough to hold the artichoke upright. Again, lemon, garlic, a bay leaf, or garlic powder can be added to the cooking water. The boiling time will depend on the size, but it’s typically around 45 minutes. Turn the artichoke upside down on a paper towel after boiling to drain any water from inside the leaves.
Steam: This method retains the flavor and moisture of the artichoke without it becoming soggy, but requires some special equipment. Cut the stem off of the artichoke for this method. Place the artichoke stem side down in a steaming basket before placing it in a large pot of water. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat to low; cover with a lid and steam for about 45-55 minutes.
Grill: They get a nice smokiness that really enhances their flavor. Bring 2 inches of water to a boil in a big pot. Add the artichoke. Simmer until tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Drain. (You can also do this first step in the microwave, just undercook slightly as the artichoke will continue to cook on the grill.)
Cut the artichoke in half, and take out the hairy fibrous choke with a spoon. Brush the cut side with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place the artichoke cut side down on the grill and cook over a medium-hot fire for about 5-6 minutes until browned and grill marks appear.
Roast: Similar to grilling, roasting them intensifies their flavor. Cut the stem off of the artichoke and prep as usual. Place it stem side down on a lightly oiled piece of foil. Push a clove of garlic into the center of the artichoke. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Squeeze half of a lemon over the top of the artichoke. Gather up the corners of the foil and press the foil together on top to tightly seal the artichoke. Place in a roasting pan and bake at 425 °F for about 90 minutes. Let it rest for 20 minutes before unwrapping and serving.
Baby artichokes: The preparation methods for baby vegetables are the same as the larger variety, only the cooking time will be a bit shorter, and you don’t need to remove the fibrous choke for the babies. The choke hasn’t been allowed to fully develop in the baby artichokes, therefore the entire plant is edible.
To eat the artichoke, peel off the leaves one at a time, starting at the stem end. Take a look at the leaf that you’ve just pulled off – you should be able to see the edible part pretty clearly. It’s lighter in color at the base of the leaf, where it was attached to the heart. If you’re eating the artichoke with a dip like mayo or melted butter, dip the fleshy meaty end into the dip. Grip the non-fleshy end of the leaf, and place the fleshy end in your mouth, dip side down, and pull it outwards through your teeth to remove the soft, meaty, delicious part.
Discard the remaining woody part of the leaf in a separate bowl (these leaves can be composted later).
Continue until all of the leaves are removed; you’ll eventually get to some smaller translucent leaves that don’t have meatiness to them. Right under these leaves will be the choke – the hairy part that isn’t edible. This is the part that you’ll remove with a spoon to reveal the delicious heart inside the artichoke. (See above prep section for more info on the choke).
The stems and the hearts can be used in other dishes like artichoke-topped pizza or in pasta. The artichoke can be stuffed or eaten as is. It can be eaten hot, cold, or at room temperature. It’s a super tasty and very versatile veggie. Enjoy!
And, I think this fits perfectly in my Basics Series!