Advertisement Close

Artichokes: A Healthy Culinary Delight

posted on: Mar 1, 2022

Artichokes: A Healthy Culinary Delight

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

The fruit or bud of a perennial thistle plant belonging to the daisy family, artichokes are still a relatively unknown food in North America. Yet, why this is so, is a mystery. Their health and culinary qualities are equal or surpass many other vegetables and they are widely available. Great for calorie-cholesterol-conscious people, they can be eaten raw, baked, boiled, fried, preserved, or stuffed. This improved development of the thistle is one of the most delicious and versatile vegetables known to man.

A native of the Mediterranean Basin where the plant today is still found in the wild, artichokes were for many centuries unknown as food in Europe. Strange as it may seem, they were cultivated in the Greek and Roman worlds, but in the ensuing years the art of growing them for food was lost. The Arabs were responsible for their re-introduction into that continent through the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily. 

In about the 14th century, artichokes became somewhat well-known, especially in Italy where they became popular for making soups. Today, in Europe, almost all the languages derive their name for artichokes from the Arabic al-khurshūf, attesting to the Arab origin of this toothsome garden vegetable. 

The Spaniards brought the artichoke plant to the Americas.  In the U.S.A., more than in any other region of the country, they thrived in California.  Castroville in that state claims to be the artichoke capital of the world.

There are two main types of artichokes: the Jerusalem and the globe. The so-called Jerusalem is not in the reality an artichoke. Rather, it is tuberous root of the sunflower plant resembling a small warty potato. The globe (Cynara scolymus) is the commonly known artichoke and is by far the most cultivated of the species. They are an attractive vegetable grown from rooted suckers or offshoots of the main plant.

To flourish, they need a warm sunny climate and rich well drained soil.  The plant fully matures in two years but bears fruit for four.  It grows up to three feet high and resembles a thistle with eye-catching foliage.  Usually cultivated as a vegetable, this beautiful green or purplish leaves makes it also a welcome addition to any flower garden.

Shortly before the head flowers, it is ready for reaping. This unopened flower head or bud, purple or green and colorful, is the part which is harvested. If allowed to remain on the plant until they flower, artichokes become useless as a vegetable. 

The edible parts are the calyx or heart which is found under the fuzzy uneatable fine hair-like growth known as the choke, and the fleshy bases of the leaves.  After boiling, the leaves are pulled out and the choke removed and discarded.  The heart and bottom of the leaves are very delicate and pleasant tasting.  When artichokes are grown for commercial purposes, the heart is usually removed and sold frozen or in cans and jars, ready for eating or to be utilized in cooking.

This tender meaty tasting vegetable is rich in calcium, carbohydrates, iron, vitamins A and C; and contains some fat, protein, and sodium.  They contain more carbohydrates and protein than asparagus, beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumber, lettuce, and numerous other vegetables.  A large portion of the carbohydrates is inulin which is recommended for diabetics.  Their cholesterol count is zero and, hence, they are excellent for heart patients.  Also, they are relatively low in calories.  One cooked, medium-size artichoke when fresh contains about ten calories.  However, when stored the calorie count increases dramatically.

In the past, artichokes acquired a reputation as an aphrodisiac.  According to R. Hendrickson in Lewd Food there is an old French saying that this vegetable-like wine is good for ladies when gentlemen partake of them.  According to the author, at one time Paris street vendors used to hawk artichokes with the cry “Artichokes! Artichokes!  Heats the body and the spirit!  Heats the genitals!”

Nevertheless, even if their sexual benefits are somewhat exaggerated, as a succulent healthy all-round food they are unequalled.  They can be eaten raw, whole, or cut into pieces and seasoned with salt and pepper.  One of the few foods that allow finger-eating to be good manners, they go well with bay leaves, coriander, parsley, savory, and thyme, and may be served hot or cold.  They are excellent when employed as garnishes; in salads, stews, and casseroles; and as pickles, or a vegetable alternative to potatoes.

If cut with some stem, artichokes possess good keeping qualities, remaining fresh for over two weeks.  Also, to preserve their appetizing appearance, just before cooking they should be trimmed then put in a solution of lemon juice and water to prevent discoloration.  If canned or frozen there is no problem since thy are ready for the cook.  When utilized in this form, they require no preparation and are easily blended in with many foods.

On the other hand, it matters not if they are cooked by themselves or with other foods, they are regarded by many as a vegetable fit for kings.  A person with gourmet taste after sampling these dishes will find that this culinary delight is truly a food which will be not easily forgotten.

Basic Cooked Artichokes

Artichokes: A Healthy Culinary Delight

Serves 4 to 6

12 artichokes, washed and the stems cut within 1/2-inch from the bottom

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Remove the loose leaves from the outside of the artichokes, then trim the remaining leaves 1/2-inch from the top and set aside.
  2. Place the artichokes and the remaining ingredients in a pot, then over with water and bring to a boil.
  3. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 45 minutes or until the leaves pull out easily, then remove the artichokes and allow to cool before serving with butter sauce.

Butter Sauce

6 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons very finely chopped fresh coriander leaves or parsley

1/4 teaspoon pepper

  1. Mix all the ingredients and serve in tiny saucers with the artichokes.

How to Eat the Cooked Artichokes with the Sauce

  1. Pull out each leaf and dip the bottom part in the sauce, then scrape the dipped part between the teeth to skim off the edible portion.  (Discard the remainder of the leaf.)
  2. When the leaves are finished remove the fuzzy choke with a fork and dip the heart into the sauce before eating.

Artichoke Appetizer

Artichokes: A Healthy Culinary Delight

Serves about 4

2 cans artichoke hearts (14 oz. 98 ml. each), drained and quartered 

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves or parsley

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Pinch of cayenne

  1. Place the artichoke hearts in a serving bowl, then set aside.
  2. Mix all the remaining ingredients, then pour over the hearts and toss just before serving as an appetizer or for snacks.

Artichoke and Tomato Salad

Artichokes: A Healthy Culinary Delight

Serves 4 to 6

2 cans artichoke hearts (14 oz. 398 ml. each), drained and quartered

2 large firm ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 small cans anchovies (1.75 oz. 50 g. each), cut into small pieces and the oil reserved

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves or parsley

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup green olives, pitted and sliced in half

  1. In a salad bowl, place the artichoke hearts and tomatoes and gently mix, then set aside.
  2. With the exception of the olives, mix the remaining ingredients, including the reserved anchovy oil, then pour over the artichokes and tomatoes and toss.
  3. Decorate with the olives and serve.

Artichokes and Mushrooms

Artichokes: A Healthy Culinary Delight

Serves about 4

4 tablespoons butter

1/2-pound mushrooms, washed and sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 can artichokes (14 oz. 398 ml.), drained and quartered

1/2 teaspoon savory

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon thyme

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

  1. In a frying pan, melt the butter and sauté the mushroom with the garlic over medium heat for about 8 minutes, then add the artichokes and sprinkle with the savory, pepper, thyme and salt.
  2. Stir-fry for 5 minutes, then place on a serving platter and decorate with the parsley and serve.

Artichoke Vegetable Stew

Artichokes: A Healthy Culinary Delight

Serves 4 to 6

5 tablespoons cooking oil

1 medium size onion, chopped 

4 cloves garlic, crushed

4 medium size tomatoes, chopped

2 large carrots, scraped and finely chopped

1 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon allspice

2 cups water

1/4 rice, rinsed

1 can artichoke hearts (14 oz. 398 ml.), quartered and the water reserved

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint

  1. In a saucepan, heat the oil and sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat for 10 minutes, then add the tomatoes and sauté for a further 5 minutes.
  2. Add the carrots, thyme, salt, pepper, allspice and water and bring to a boil, then cover and cook over medium heat for 40 minutes.
  3. Add the rice and the artichokes with their water and cook for a further 20 minutes, stirring a few times and adding more water if necessary, then stir in the mint and serve hot.

Artichoke and Vegetable Casserole

Artichokes: A Healthy Culinary Delight

Serves 6 to 8

6 medium size potatoes about 3-inches long, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

2 cans artichoke hearts (14 oz. 398 ml. each), cut in half and the water reserved

2 medium size onions, thinly sliced

2 large carrots, scraped and sliced into thin rounds

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves or parsley

1 small hot pepper, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon allspice

5 tablespoons cooking oil

3 cups tomato juice

  1. In a casserole, place evenly on the bottom, half of the potato slices, then top with the artichokes, onions and carrots and set aside.
  2. Mix the coriander leaves or parsley, hot pepper, garlic, salt, pepper, allspice and oil, then pour evenly over the vegetables in the casserole.
  3. Top evenly with the remaining potatoes, then pour the tomato juice and enough water to cover the potatoes.
  4. Cover and bake in a 350o F preheated oven for 1 hour or until the vegetables are done, then serve hot from the casserole.

Moroccan Artichoke Tajine

Artichokes: A Healthy Culinary Delight

Serves about 4

1/2-pound beef or lamb, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

4 cloves garlic, crushed

One can chickpeas (19 oz. 540 ml) was its water

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons ginger

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Pinch of saffron

1 can artichokes (14 oz. 398 ml), quartered and the water reserved

1/2 cup pickled green olives, pitted 

  1. In a saucepan, place the meat, garlic, chickpeas, olive oil, ginger, pepper and saffron, then cover with water and bring to a boil.
  2. Cook over medium heat for 45 minutes, then add the artichokes with their water and the green olives.
  3. Cook for a further 30 minutes, then serve hot. 

Artichoke and Meat Stew

Artichokes: A Healthy Culinary Delight

Serves 4 to 6

4 tablespoons butter

1-pound beef or lamb, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 medium onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander

1 small hot pepper, finely chopped

1 can stewed tomatoes (19 oz. 540 ml.)

2 1/2 cups water

1 teaspoon savory

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1-pound frozen artichoke, thawed and quartered

  1. In a saucepan, melt the butter and sauté the meat over medium heat for 10 minutes, then add the onion, garlic, coriander leaves and hot pepper and stir fry for further 10 minutes.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients except the artichokes and bring to a boil, then cover and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.
  3. Stir in the artichokes and re-cover, then cook for further 30 minutes.
  4. Serve hot with cooked rice or mashed potatoes. 

Lobster-stuffed Baked Artichokes

Artichokes: A Healthy Culinary Delight

Serves 4 to 6

12 fresh artichokes, washed and the stems removed

4 tablespoons lemon juice

6 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 can lobster meat (4 oz. 113 g. each)

1 cup chopped feta cheese

1 cup finely chopped green onions

4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt 

1/4 teaspoons black pepper

Pinch of cayenne

  1.  Remove the loose leaves from the outside of the artichokes, then trim the remaining leaves 1/2-inch from the top and place in a pot.
  2. Cover with water, then add 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and half the garlic and bring to a boil.
  3. Cook for 20 minutes, then take the artichokes out of the water and remove the centre leaves and the chokes.  Set aside.
  4. Make a filling by mixing the remaining ingredients, including the rest of the lemon juice and garlic, then fill the artichokes and place side by side in a baking pan.
  5. Add about 1/2 -inch deep of water, then bake in a 350o F preheated oven for 45 minutes.