Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus) is a widely eaten vegetable, especially in Europe and Northern Africa, with the leaves and heart of this veggie being consumed. Artichoke is very high in antioxidants; research says that its antioxidant content is one of the highest among vegetables. It's the leaves that pack in the major health benefits as compared to the heart. The leaves aid in relieving indigestion, increasing bile flow which is beneficial in the digestion of fat, and reducing cholesterol. With low-calorie content and high fiber, this is one vegetable you must add to your diet. And it's not difficult to cook too. It can be fried, steamed or boiled (whole), grilled, used to make dips, and salads, or even chopped and used as stuffing in main dishes.
Selecting and Prepping the Artichoke
Pick an artichoke that is green and feels heavy with compact leaves that are densely packed together. You may find dark, blister-like spots on the leaves which can be caused by frost. But these are harmless, and in no way alter the taste and freshness of the vegetable. Do not buy artichokes that have a tinge of purple, as purple leaves imply that the artichoke is old and over-ripe.
Wash the artichoke thoroughly to get rid of any dirt that may be stuck between the leaves, then snip off the stems, such that the artichoke should be able to stand upright. Then cut an inch off the tip of the veggie. The outer leaves of an artichoke bear thorny tips, so carefully snip off all the spikes. Rub the leaves with lemon juice to prevent browning. Using your fingers separate the leaves. Pull out the bunch of purple leaves in the center of the artichoke to reveal the choke, which is covered with fine fuzz. Take a melon scooper and scoop out the choke. Rub lemon juice over the prepared artichoke so it does not turn brown.
Easy Ways to Cook Artichokes
Add water to a pan and bring to a boil. Place the artichoke upright in it, lower the heat, and let the water simmer. Typically, an artichoke cooked this way should be done in 30 to 45 minutes. To ensure the artichoke stays fully immersed in water, cover the pan with a lid. Add a dash of salt or grated lemon zest to the water to retain the color and flavor of the artichoke.
Alternatively, add a few cloves of garlic to the water for added flavor. Try using chicken or vegetable broth instead of water to boil the artichokes. To check if it is done, insert a knife near the stem. It should slide in easily. Before eating, place the artichoke upside down on a paper towel to drain off excess water.
Bring water to a boil in a steaming basket, to which salt and lemon juice have been added. Place the artichokes stem side down on a rack and place the rack in the basket and cover the pot with a lid. Simmer for 45 minutes, or till the artichokes get cooked. Keep an eye on the water level, if it gets too dry, add more water. Before consuming them, drain off excess water by placing them on a paper towel.
You can grill artichokes that have been previously steamed or boiled. Take a pre-cooked artichoke and slice it lengthwise. Rub olive oil over it. Place the artichoke on the grill and cook till it reaches the desired level of crispness, which should take about 3 to 4 minutes. Rotate a couple of times so they are evenly grilled. Grilling imparts a delicious smoky flavor to the artichokes and grilled artichokes taste best when served with dips and mayonnaise.
Wrap a freshly washed artichoke in a microwave-safe plastic bag and microwave on high for about 5 minutes. Cooking time may vary depending upon the size of the artichoke and power of your microwave. If you do not have a plastic bag, take a microwave-safe bowl and add a little water and a few drops of lemon juice to it. Put the artichokes in the bowl, stem side up, cover with a lid and microwave. Do not secure the lid tightly. In either case, turn the artichoke once halfway through the cooking time.
Preheat the oven to 400 °F. Rub olive oil and lemon juice all over the artichoke, including between the leaves. Sprinkle salt and pepper over it. Take an aluminum foil and wrap the artichoke in it and place on the oven rack. Baking should take approximately an hour. It tastes good when topped with melted butter or dipped in hollandaise sauce.
A little time and effort in the preparation is required for cooking artichokes, but their flavor compliments a variety of foods. Did you know that artichoke is also used to prepare tea? Yes! Take 8-10 leaves, chop them, and add them to 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Brew for 5 minutes. Strain the leaves. If you like it sweet, add honey or sugar to the tea. This herbal tea is supposed to be beneficial for the liver. For your next meal, cook artichokes using any one of the methods mentioned above before using them in a dish, or try to come up with your own innovative recipes involving artichokes. Add chopped artichokes to pasta and risotto or use them in an omelet and scrambled eggs, the list is endless.