It's true, artichokes can be intimidating. It's easy to bypass them in the produce department for a vegetable that is a bit more accessible and a little less armored. But this member of the thistle family is good for you, deliciously versatile and easy to prepare with a few simple tips.
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Artichokes are high in fiber and minerals. They have antioxidant levels and chemical compounds that studies indicate can reduce cholesterol and aid digestion, as well as liver and gall bladder function.
Native to the Mediterranean, artichokes were brought to the United States by Spanish and Italian immigrants and are primarily grown in the coastal regions of California. A young starlet, Norma Jeane Mortenson, later known as Marilyn Monroe, was named Artichoke Queen in 1947 in Castroville, Calif., which bills itself as the Artichoke Capital of the World.
Artichokes are available much of the year, but are in their prime in late spring. Now is the time to start looking for a good selection in your local produce department and farmer's markets.
Look for artichokes that feel heavy for their size, with sturdy stalks and leaves that are tightly closed at the tops.
Artichokes dry out quickly once you bring them home, so store them in the vegetable bin in your refrigerator in a plastic bag.
A sharp knife and a sturdy pair of kitchen scissors are the best weapons for conquering the artichoke. For large ones, cut off the stem flush with the bottom of the choke, then slice off an inch or so straight across the tips. Remove the tough outer leaves until you get to the inner tender ones. Cut off the thorny tips of the remaining outer leaves with scissors. Then cut in half, scoop out the choke at the center and dip in lemon water to keep from discoloring. Steam, boil or braise.
For artichoke bottoms, trim off all the leaves to the base, scoop out the choke and prepare.
Small artichokes are tender enough to be eaten whole and do not need the choke removed. They can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed or grilled.
Try these recipes for some new delicious spring dishes:
Watching carbs? Try this lighter version of eggs Benedict.
This simple salad of arugula, artichokes and parmesan needs nothing more than a good olive oil for a satisfying starter or light meal.