Despite being beautiful, delicious, and good for you, artichokes don’t get much play in the kitchen because — let’s face it — they’re a little intimidating. But with just a tiny bit of prep work, they’re surprisingly easy to cook. The next time you’re at the farmers market or grocery store, pick up a few and give it a go. I’ll walk you through everything you need to know.
Artichokes are thistles, which is a family of flowering plants characterized by prickly leaves. Although they’re typically cooked whole, only parts of the artichoke are edible. The outside of the bulb features dark green leaves, which are stringy, fibrous, and not meant to be eaten. At the base of each leaf, though, there’s a tiny bit of soft flesh, which is the part you eat. The outermost layers tend to be the toughest, and the leaves get softer as you get closer to the center.
The smaller, more tender leaves with purple tips can be treated like the green ones. As you get further towards the center, there’s the aptly named choke, a cluster of tightly woven fibers, which are not edible. Finally, you reach the heart — the meatiest part of the artichoke (this is what you get in a jar of store-bought marinated artichokes).
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You might be thinking: “That’s a whole lot of work for a tiny bit of food!” But freshly cooked artichokes are incredibly delicious — a delicacy, in fact. Think of them as the oysters of the plant world. Plus, they’re packed with nutrients and antioxidants: They’re rich in fiber, Vitamins C and K, and folate. They’re also believed to help reduce blood pressure and improve liver function.
How to Choose and Prep Artichokes
Select bright-green artichokes without brown spots. Fresh artichokes have tightly bound leaves (ones with splayed-out leaves are likely past their prime). Some artichokes are tinged purple on the outside — this is normal. Keep in mind, as with most vegetables, that large artichokes will take longer to cook than small ones.
Using a sharp chef’s knife, start by removing the stem by slicing it off at the base of the bulb. Next, cut off about one inch from the top of the bulb (right around where it starts to taper). Pull off any small, dark leaves near the base and discard.
Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim off about a third of an inch from each leaf around the perimeter. Rinse the trimmed artichokes under cold running water while gently separating the leaves with your fingers to remove any dirt hidden between the leaves. If your artichokes are going to sit out for more than a few minutes before cooking, submerge them in a large bowl of acidulated water (water plus the juice of one lemon) to keep them from oxidizing.
The Best Way to Cook Artichokes
The two most common ways to cook these thistles are boiling and steaming. While both are equally easy, I recommend steaming. Boiling artichokes tends to waterlog them, which makes the flesh watery and dilutes the flavor. Steaming keeps artichokes moist and tender, and maintains the integrity of their nutrients, too.
Don’t worry if you don’t own a steamer basket. You can use a metal colander or mesh strainer instead. Just make sure it’s heatproof and fits snugly inside the pot.
Serving (and Eating!) Artichokes
Artichoke flesh is nutty, verdant, and a little sweet — with a flavor reminiscent of fresh corn. Both artichoke leaves and hearts are a tasty vessel for all sorts of creamy dips, like garlicky mayo (recipe below!) or herby lemon butter.
Whole steamed artichokes are a finger food. Starting at the outside, pull off a leaf and dip it in sauce. Place it in your mouth, meaty side pointing down. Bite down on the leaf and pull it out, scraping the flesh with your teeth. Discard the leaf and eat some more, continuing through to the more tender purple leaves.
Be careful when you reach the purple leaves at the very center — they tend to be prickly, so use a kitchen towel to discard them. When you reach the choke (the fuzzy bit), scrape it off with a spoon or carefully slice it off, and discard. All that’s left now is the heart, which is edible.
How to Cook Artichokes
medium artichokes (about 1 3/4 pounds total)
For the garlicky mayo dip (optional):
- 1 tablespoon
finely chopped fresh cilantro or parsley leaves
- 1 clove
- 1/2 cup
- 1 teaspoon
freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Steamer basket or heatproof colander or strainer
Chef’s knife and cutting board
Bring water to a boil. Bring a few inches of water to a boil in a large pot that fits a steamer insert with a lid. Meanwhile, prepare the artichokes.
Remove the stems from 2 artichokes. Using a chef’s knife, cut the stem off at the base of 2 artichokes.
Cut off the top of the bulb. Cut off about 1 inch from the top of the bulbs (right around where it starts to taper). Pull off any small, dark leaves near the base and discard.
Trim the artichokes leaves. Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim off about 1/3 inch from each leaf to remove the sharp points.
Rinse the artichokes. Rinse the trimmed artichokes under cold running water while gently separating the leaves with your fingers to remove any dirt hidden between the layers. If your artichokes are going to sit out for more than a few minutes before cooking, submerge them in a large bowl of acidulated water (water plus the juice of 1 lemon) to keep them from turning brown.
Steam the artichokes 40 to 60 minutes. Fit a steamer basket or heatproof colander or strainer in the pot and place the artichokes inside cut-side up. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover the pot, and steam for 40 to 60 minutes.
Check for doneness. The artichokes are ready when you can pull off an outer leaf with tongs without much effort. Remove the artichokes from the pot and let stand until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce if desired.
Make the dipping sauce. Finely chop 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro or parsley leaves and mince 1 garlic cloves. Place in a bowl and add 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Season with pepper and stir to combine.
Serve. Serve the artichokes warm with the dipping sauce.
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