All About Artichokes (Plus Recipes!)
History of Artichokes
Who first decided artichokes might be edible? They must’ve been a little desperate, because—although delicious—artichokes are not the easiest vegetable to prepare! They’re native to the Mediterranean and came to the U.S. as late as the 19th Century when French immigrants brought them to Louisiana and Spanish immigrants brought them to California. There are about 140 artichoke varieties in existence, and approximately 40 of those are grown commercially for food. Most of what we consume today are globe artichokes. While we’re on the subject of varieties, don’t confuse an artichoke with a Jerusalem artichoke, Jerusalem artichokes are the tubers of an entirely different plant (a variety of sunflower), and they actually have nothing to do with either Jerusalem or artichokes.
Anatomy of an Artichoke
An artichoke is actually a flower. To be precise, it’s the bud of a thistle, and it can grow from 3 to 6 inches in diameter. The leaves you see on the outside are called “bracts,” and they look like scales. The outer bracts are too tough to eat whole, but you can scrape out the soft insides of the leaves with your teeth. The softer inner bracts are edible. The bracts cover a fuzzy center called the “choke” or the “beard” which is edible in baby artichokes. (The choke of a mature artichoke is too fibrous to eat.) The core of the artichoke, or “heart,” is meaty and delicious, whether from a baby or mature artichoke. The artichoke’s stem has an edible center that tastes like the heart.
Artichokes are Good for You
Artichokes are so healthy! They have about the highest amount of antioxidants of any vegetable. They are a rich source of iron, plus they contain magnesium, vitamin K, and phosphorus. Artichokes are low in calories, high in fiber, and low in fat. Artichokes contain properties known to improve digestion, lower cholesterol, and promote liver health. There’s a misconception that artichokes are poisonous. No part of the artichoke plant is poisonous to humans, but a small percentage of the population is allergic to them. Artichokes are low in carbohydrates, so they’re great for a low carb or keto diet.
What do Artichokes Taste Like?
The flavor of artichokes has been described as light, nutty, and green. The texture is silky and creamy. They are sweeter and nuttier than asparagus. Taste varies drastically depending on cooking method.
How to Choose a Good Artichoke
- A fresh artichoke should feel heavy. The lighter ones are older and more dried out.
- A fresh artichoke will have leaves that squeak when you squeeze it.
- A fresh artichoke will have bracts that are closed. Slight separation is fine, but don’t buy an artichoke with bracts that are wide open, which would indicate that the artichoke is too old.
- Don’t be put off by frost damage. Artichokes that have been exposed to a frost can taste even better and sometimes cost more because of it.
How to Store an Artichoke
Cut off the end of the stem and store the artichoke in a sealed plastic bag at room temperature. Cook it within a week of purchasing it. You can freeze artichokes, as well!
How to Prepare an Artichoke
Artichokes can be prepared in many ways, including stuffed, stewed, baked, grilled, fried, boiled, steamed, roasted, pureed, and braised. The softer parts can be eaten raw. Artichokes are even made into herbal teas in Vietnam, Romania, and Mexico. Depending on the recipe, you’ll prepare an artichoke in different ways. But the basic method of prepping an artichoke for cooking is:
- Cut the top third off each outer bract (leaf).
- Slice about ¾” off the top of the artichoke.
- Cut the end off the artichoke stem, then peel the tough outer layer of stem with a paring knife or vegetable peeler.
- Rinse the artichoke, lifting the outer bracts to rinse underneath.
- Proceed according to recipe
Recipe: Artichoke Dip
|fresh garlic, sliced
|fresh parsley, minced
|Parmesan cheese, grated
|mozzarella cheese, shredded (divided)
|onion, finely chopped
|fresh garlic, minced
|red pepper flakes (optional)
Prepare the artichoke according to the “How to Prepare an Artichoke” section. Place about 2 inches of water in the bottom of a saucepan, and add the lemon, sliced garlic, and bay leaf. Place the prepared artichoke in a steamer basket, cover, and steam for about 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the stem slides through easily. The amount of time will vary depending on the size of artichoke. When the artichoke is fully cooked, pull off each leaf and scrape out the soft filling for use in the dip. Remove the fuzzy choke and discard. Cut the heart and tender stem into small chunks for your dip. Set the cooked artichoke to the side.
Sauté the onions and minced garlic in butter until soft.
In a mixing bowl, combine the thyme, parsley, salt, mustard, sour cream, Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cheese, mayonnaise, and sauteed onion and garlic. Mix until well blended and smooth. Stir in the cooked artichoke. Put mixture in a small baking dish, and top with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese.
Bake at 400 degrees F for 10-12 minutes, then broil for another few minutes until the top is nicely browned. Be careful not to burn it!
Serve warm with bread, croutons, chips, crackers, raw veggies, etc. for dipping.
Recipe: Steamed Artichokes
A delicious recipe for steamed artichokes is to simply follow the first section of the recipe above, “Artichoke Dip.” Once you remove the artichokes from the steamer, garnish them with salt and pepper, fresh lemon juice, feta cheese, etc. for a delicious dish. The artichoke leaves are wonderful dipped in melted butter or mayonnaise mixed with balsamic vinegar.
Recipe: Roasted Artichokes
|fresh garlic, minced
|fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage)
|salt & pepper
Prep the artichokes as described in the “How to Prepare an Artichoke” section. Then cut each artichoke in half, from tip to stem. Use a spoon to remove the fuzzy choke from each half. Rub each artichoke half completely–on all sides–with half a lemon. Brush each artichoke half with olive oil, making sure to cover the entire outer surface. Place the artichokes cut side up on a baking sheet. Fill the cavity of each half with fresh herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper. Flip the artichokes so they’re cut side down. Season with salt and pepper. Roast uncovered at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes, or until the edges are browned. Then cover the pan with foil and return to the oven for 25-35 minutes, or until the leaves pull off easily.
Remove the herbs from the artichoke cavities and add them to sour cream or yogurt for a delicious dipping sauce for your roasted artichokes. Squeeze more lemon juice over the roasted artichokes, and serve them warm.
Recipe: Sauteed Artichokes
|fresh lemon juice
|fresh garlic, minced
|salt & pepper
Prepare the artichokes according to the “How to Prepare an Artichoke” section, then cut each artichoke in half from tip to stem. Immediately toss the artichoke halves in lemon juice. Heat a skillet with olive oil and butter. Add in the artichoke halves, lemon juice, and garlic. Salt & pepper to your taste. Sauté about 3 minutes, or until the artichokes are beginning to brown. Add a couple Tablespoons of water, cover, and cook another 2 minutes. Flip each artichoke over, add another 2 Tablespoons of water, cover, and cook another 3 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer until the water is mostly cooked away. Artichokes are done when they can be easily pierced with a fork. Garnish with fresh lemon and serve warm.