Tis the season for artichokes! I have loved these seasonal delicacies for years. I also love to introduce others to the simple, satisfying way I cook and eat them. Kids are especially fascinated with artichokes. The funny name, the way you get to play with them by pulling off the leaves and scraping them into your mouth, it’s kid heaven. Try them and see what you think.
How to Choose an Artichoke
Artichokes are a variety of thistle with a wide range of types to choose from. Some have rounder leaves, some appear more pointy, some are smaller than others, however, all be prepared and eaten the same way. When choosing artichokes at the store, you want the ones that are heavy and firm. I like to choose the ones with the thickest stalks as well. Size and type are up to you! Here’s an in depth article on a variety of artichokes.
How to Cook an Artichoke
Before cooking, wash artichokes in cool water. I like to then remove the stem so that I have a flat surface on the bottom of the artichoke. Trim away any excess leaves on the stem and then cut a dime-width sliver from the bottom end. You can cook the stem right along with the rest of the artichoke since the tender inside is a continuation of the heart.
If you’d like the top of your artichoke to be less pointy, cut away the top thornpart of the leaf. I like to leave the head intact though, since the top end of each leaf is good for holding while eating. Some artichokes are more prickly than others. The round, globe artichokes may not need the tops trimmed, whereas the taller varieties have a small thorn at the top that is easier to hold when it is cut off.
Once trimmed, place the artichoke with the leaves facing up in a large pot or Dutch oven. Arrange the stems in around the heads, and fill the bottom of the pot with 1 to 2 inches of water. You should have enough water for the artichokes to cook for 45 minutes to an hour without the water evaporating.
Next, bring the water to a boil over medium heat, cover, turn to low or medium-low, and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. You’ll know when the artichokes are cooked through when one of the middle leaves can be easily pulled out. After you pull it, the tender bottom flesh should also be soft and scrape off easily between your teeth.
How To Eat an Artichoke
To eat the artichoke, pull the leaves out one by one and scrape them against your teeth to remove the tender flesh. Don’t eat the fibrous portions of the leaf.
Although the stems can have long thick fibers, the tender middle is still delicious. The stem is one of my favorite parts.
When you get to the middle leaves, you’ll be able to pull several at a time and just bite the tender ends off. Once you get to the tiny, thistle hairs in the middle, remove that part with a spoon, and enjoy the meaty bottom.
Cooked artichokes can be eaten warm or kept in the refrigerator for up to a week. Reheat them or eat them cold for a satisfying side dish or snack any time.
Once they are cooked the next step is deciding the dipping sauce you want to use.
Artichoke Dipping Sauce
Although delicious when dipped in the traditional melted butter with a splash of lemon, artichokes present the perfect opportunity to introduce you to one of my very FAVORITE ingredients of all time: Umeboshi.
You can find Umeboshi paste or Ume Plum vinegar online, at natural food stores, or in a Japanese market. Umeboshi is a salt pickled fruit that’s used for its healing and alkalizing properties in traditional Japanese medicine. It enhances the flavor of just about everything. I use it on salads and vegetables, in soups, casseroles, or on any foods that need a little zippy depth of flavor. Use it raw before serving or cook it in (caution: a little goes a long way).
My favorite sauce to dip artichokes in is a simple Umeboshi Flax Sauce (see below for the recipe). The combination of Umeboshi paste and flax oil creates the perfect salty, sour, richness that pairs perfectly with the delicate flavor of artichokes. It’s also my favorite sauce for steamed turnips and turnip greens (also in season now). I also use ume vinegar and flax oil to splash onto salads for a refreshing salad dressing.
Even though it’s called ume plum vinegar, it’s not actually vinegar. Ume Vinegar is the salt pickling brine of the umeboshi plum. It is salty, sour, and delicious. In addition to enhancing recipes, it is a perfect flavor substitute for tomatoes. You can achieve that zippy bite without the acidity of actually adding a tomato. While training Natural Foods chefs, I had a saying in the kitchen, “when in doubt, add Umeboshi.” Try for yourself to see just how versatile this ingredient is!
Ume-Flax Dipping Sauce
You can use this sauce as a salad dressing, as a flavor enhancer on vegetables, in soups or casseroles, or for any recipes that need a bit of zip.
1 tablespoon Umeboshi paste, or 2 tablespoons Umeboshi vinegar, or to taste
3 tablespoons water
1 inch slice raw zucchini (optional)
1/3 cup flax oil
Put the Umeboshi paste or vinegar, zucchini, and water in a wide mouth mason jar or cup that will fit an immersion blender without splashing. Blend until smooth (the zucchini will add a bit of bulk to help emulsify the oil). Add the flax oil. Continue blending. Adjust seasonings to taste.