Although artichokes have been around since ancient Greek and Roman times, they aren’t necessarily a staple in many households. However, given their versatility, powerful nutritional profile and mild, delicious taste, it’s time for them to take a place on the table!
Artichokes are actually the bud of a plant from the thistle family. Inside the bud is the pale green heart, topped by the “choke,” a fuzzy section that is not eaten. Covering these are deep green petals, which protect the heart while the artichoke grows. When raw, the petals have tiny thorns at the top — these can be trimmed, if desired, but soften during cooking.
Baby artichokes, which are not a different variety but simply a smaller version of a regular artichoke, are grown on the lower part of the plant. They don’t grow the choke portion, so they are fully edible.
Artichokes are low in calories and have almost no fat. They have one of the highest total antioxidant levels of any vegetable, as well as a generous amount of vitamins K and C, folate, potassium and magnesium. They’re also high in fiber, with more than 10.3 grams in a 120-gram fresh artichoke. Research suggests that the phytonutrients found in artichokes may help improve digestion, increase probiotic bacteria in the gut, decrease cholesterol and assist in maintaining a healthy liver.
When buying fresh artichokes, look for those that are heavy and firm, with vibrant green, tightly closed petals. Avoid any that are bluish or purple, which indicates they are overripe. Basic cooking methods include steaming, baking, microwaving or boiling, but they can also be stuffed, grilled, sautéed, marinated, pickled or prepared in a slow cooker or pressure cooker. Once cooked, the petals are eaten by stripping the edible flesh on the bottom with the teeth. Once the petals are gone and the choke is removed, the mild, creamy heart will be visible and ready to eat or use in a recipe.
Jarred, canned and frozen artichokes (whole or hearts only) can be enjoyed year-round and are used in many delectable dishes, including accompanying their nutritious leafy green cousin in the ever-popular spinach and artichoke dip. Jarred varieties are often marinated in olive oil and seasonings, which adds flavor but also fat and sodium, so be sure to take that into account when planning your meal. Canned and frozen artichokes are generally plain, ready to be marinated yourself or added to soups, salads or casseroles. They are particularly tasty when sautéed in olive oil and added to pasta dishes. They are delicious when roasted in the oven, and you can even use them as a pizza topping. Experiment with the many creative recipes that can be found online and incorporate this delicious, nutritious vegetable into your diet.
With a little effort, you can enjoy the unique flavor and nutrient-packed goodness that is the artichoke.
- CUT THE PETAL TIPS –
The thorny ends will soften when cooking, but this process opens up the petals and removes any doubt of biting into a sharp tip. Removing the tips also makes it easier to open the artichoke when cleaning it.
- REMOVE THE TOP OF THE ARTICHOKE –
Cut off ¾ to ½ inch of the tip of the artichoke.
- REMOVE THE SMALL PETALS AT THE BASE –
Pull off any smaller or undeveloped petals at the base of the artichoke and on the stem.
- CUT OFF EXCESS STEM –
Leave about 1 inch of stem. It’s a matter of personal taste, but the stem tends to be more bitter than the rest of the artichoke. If you’re preparing a stuffed artichoke, removing the entire stem will help keep it stable, first on the baking sheet and then on the plate.
- FOR STUFFED ARTICHOKES –
Remove and scoop out the purple leaves and hair that cover the artichoke heart. Artichokes discolor pretty quickly once they’ve been cut, so store them in lemon water if you aren’t using them right away.
- HEARTS ONLY –
If your recipe calls for only the heart of the artichoke, the steps are a little different. After removing all the artichoke’s petals, slice the heart in half. Using a spoon, scoop out the purple petals and hairy portion covering the heart.
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