One of the least understood vegetables, artichokes are a unique option for side dishes or as an ingredient for soups or dips. Although they require a bit more prep time, these thorny veggies offer higher levels of antioxidants than most, according to USDA studies. One large artichoke adds six grams of fiber to your daily diet, has no cholesterol, and no fat. They’re readily available at most grocery stores, or you can grow them in your vegetable garden.
This regal vegetable belongs to the thistle family. The artichoke you purchase at the grocery store is the bud of a thistle plant. The bud matures into a blue-violet or pink flower, if the grower doesn’t remove it, and is no longer edible. Rows of thorny petals protect the exterior of a bud. Underneath, the petals get softer toward the vegetable’s center, until you reach the choke, a small inedible section of tightly woven fibers. Just above the stem lies the heart. The fleshy, lighter-colored base of the artichoke’s petals, the center of the interior stem, and the heart are all edible and delicious.
The most common variety is the globe or French artichoke. California artichokes are available year-round, but flavor peaks from March to June and from September to October. Avoid thornless varieties, as they lack flavor, and choose those with tight, compact leaves with a heftiness to them. Leaf discolorations are normal, but an abundance of brown, shriveled, or split leaves indicate a dry artichoke. When you squeeze the petals, you should hear a little squeak.
Before you start your prep, cut a whole lemon in half and set to the side, or prepare a bowl of cool water with lemon juice. Artichokes brown quickly after cutting and the lemon juice stops that from occurring. Remove the artichoke’s tougher, outer leaves, if you prefer. Using a serrated knife, cut about ½ inch off the top of the artichoke. Trim the stem at the base, or if you prefer to leave it on, peel the tough, outer layer with a vegetable peeler. Next, wash the artichoke thoroughly in cool water using a vegetable brush. Don’t forget to separate the leaves as you wash. If you desire, trim the thorny ends off each leaf. The thorns soften up during the cooking process, so this is optional.
Steamed or boiled artichokes are tender and sweet. Fill a large pot with one-inch of water and bring to a simmer. Add a lemon wedge, some garlic, and a bay leaf to the water, then place a steaming basket into the pot to hold the artichokes stem-side-up. You can also place them directly into the water if you don’t have a basket, or use an instant pot or pressure cooker. Cover the pot with a lid and steam for 35 to 60 minutes. You’ll know the artichokes are ready when you can easily pull off an outer leaf. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before handling.
After prepping the artichokes and slicing vertically in half, place them in a baking dish, cut-side up, and brush with olive oil or butter. Stuff the crevices with garlic and herbs, then season with salt and pepper and flip cut-side down. Brush the petaled side with butter or olive oil and season. Roast uncovered for about 10 minutes in a 400-degree oven until the edges are crispy and brown. Cover with foil and cook until you can easily insert a knife into the stem, usually between 25 and 35 minutes. Remove the roasted artichokes from the oven, drizzle lemon juice over them, and serve.
Stuffed, baked artichokes take a bit more time, but they’re worth it. Prepare them in advance for a special occasion or for feeding a crowd. Pre-steam the artichokes, then remove the center leaves. Scoop out the choke with a spoon. Stuff the center with bread crumbs and a combination of your favorite ingredients, such as cheese, bacon, jalapenos, sauteed garlic, and shallots. Season with salt and pepper and place upright in a baking dish in a 375-degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
If you love grilled foods, you’re missing out on this veggie option. Prep the artichoke, peeling off the tough outer leaves, remove the purple leaves and the choke, and cut the bud vertically in half. Dip in lemon water. Brush the artichoke halves with garlic butter, season with salt and pepper, and grill, cut side down, for about five minutes. Flip again, and grill until charred.
After cleaning and prepping the artichoke, peel off five to six layers of external leaves and set aside. Cut the artichoke in half, about ¾-inch above the base. Slice vertically, scoop out the choke and the purple leaves, and soak the cut artichokes in lemon water. Steam for about 20 minutes to cook partially, then drain on paper towels before seasoning with salt and pepper. Heat an inch of olive oil to about 375 degrees — don't let it smoke. Fry the artichokes for around 15 minutes. Turn once, halfway through, then continue frying until they’re golden brown. Remove from the heat and drizzle fresh lemon juice over them.
Growers pick these smaller, yet fully mature artichokes from the lower sections of the plant. They’re easier to prepare because they haven’t developed the fuzzy choke in their centers. Remove the outer leaves until you reach the yellow ones. Cut off the stem and about ½ an inch off the top. After soaking in lemon juice and water or a vinegar and water mixture, cook the same way you would regular-sized artichokes. Consider putting them on kebab sticks, brushing with garlic butter, and grilling them.
The perfect side for any artichoke dish is an array of dipping sauces. Endless combinations of flavors enhance the versatile artichoke, whether it’s your favorite ranch dressing, a simple garlic and lemon butter sauce, or a unique concoction of your very own. Try honey mustard, a chipotle-mayonnaise, or a Greek yogurt, mint, and scallions combo. After steaming the artichoke, peel off a leaf, dip the bottom half in the sauce, then place the dipped section between your front teeth. Gently pull the leaf from between your teeth to eat the fleshy end only.
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