picture of two artichokes

photo via Nourish Family Nutrition

Growing up flat broke in L.A., my health-conscious parents were often caught in that all-too-common dilemma: how to nourish two little girls with no money and no time. Dad worked days and Mom worked nights, making meal time even more complicated. They often solved this problem by making entire meals out of a single vegetable: steamed broccoli with sour cream with a was a pretty common choice, and one my sister and I happily devoured. But by far the best single-veggie meal was a big, fat, boiled artichoke, with leaves dipped in lemony mayonnaise. Kid heaven.

So imagine my shock when we moved to the East Coast and I discovered that some people had never had one.

Fast-forward about fifteen years, and I’ve introduced exactly seven friends to the revelation that is a boiled artichoke, and each of those seven people is now a dedicated artichoke disciples. If you’ve only ever experienced artichokes in the form of canned hearts, dip, or salad toppings, you are in for a treat. If you’re a fellow disciple, read on: you might learn something new.

The beautiful thing about artichokes is that they can be a meal in and of themselves (although they’re often paired with steaks on birthdays in my house). They’re also extremely good for you; they’re packed with antioxidants, improve liver function, have been shown to reduce bad cholesterol levels, increase production of “good bacteria” in the stomach, and can help ease symptoms of IBS and functional dyspepsia. Not bad for a thistle that costs about $2 a pound!

The most common – and delicious – way to eat an artichoke is to boil it. This process is ridiculously easy. Ready?

  1. Go get some artichokes. When picking out ‘chokes, you actually want to go for the ugly ones – the pointer and more spread-apart the leaves, the better. The ones that are round and tight are typically not going to be as soft and meaty. One artichoke per person should do it, although I’ve been known to down two in one sitting.
  2. Cut off the stem so your ‘choke has a flat base. This will make it easier to stand it upright on your plate.
  3. While you’re prepping the ‘chokes, break out your biggest pot for boiling them. Now, I’m not able to find any exact science on artichoke prep, so you kind of have to use your instincts for this part. I personally fill up the pot a little more than halfway, although some websites recommend as little as a few inches of water. The artichokes are going to float, so you’d have to work pretty hard to mess this part up.
  4. Add whatever you want to the water. I do a few squirts of lemon juice, some olive oil, and a dash of salt. You can also use garlic, bay leaves, lime juice, or your favorite fresh herbs.
  5. Bring the water to a full boil.
  6. Drop in the artichokes, then reduce heat to a low simmer. I cover the pot with aluminum foil, pushing the foil down to trap the steam. You can also just use the lid of the pot.
  7. Boil the ‘chokes until the stem is easily pierced with a fork. Now, most websites I looked at recommend 25 to 40 minutes for this part. I, however, usually end up doing mine for almost an hour. You really cannot overcook these babies.
  8. When the ‘chokes are done, remove them from water. Some boiling water will be trapped in the leaves, so be super careful moving them around, and don’t turn them upside down over your hands, because you will burn yourself, guaranteed. I like to squeeze them out with salad tongs over the pot to reduce this risk.
  9. You’re done!

To eat an artichoke is extremely satisfying, and entertaining too. You peel off the leaves one by one, dip them in whatever delicious dip you have on hand, and scrape the meat off the leaf with your front teeth. Discard the leaf and repeat. As you move toward the center, the leaves get smaller, thinner, and less meaty. At a certain point they become sort of useless; that means you’ve reached the best part of the artichoke – the heart.

slicing an artichoke heart

Photo via Food Blogga at Flickr

Once you’ve gotten rid of the leaves, you’re left with the meaty heart. The heart in the photo has already been prepped; when you originally reach the heart, it’s covered with tiny little hairs. If your ‘choke is cooked well enough, these should easily scrape off with the side of your fork, or a knife if it’s being stubborn. Once you’re cleared the hairs off, you’re left with what’s shown in the photo. This part can be sliced up, dipped, and enjoyed. Thoroughly. Artichokes are meaty, wholesome, and a great alternative to not-so-nutritious comfort foods, and the heart is really where the promise of the leaves is fulfilled.

I’ve found that on the West Coast, the most common way to eat an artichoke is with mayonnaise, while the preferred method on the East Coast is with melted butter mixed with lemon. In my opinion, mayonnaise is by far the superior option. You can find gluten-free mayo options in stores (check your grocery guide if you’re having trouble), but you can also make your own mayo pretty easily if you have a food processor and steady hands. There’s a really stellar gluten-free mayo recipe from – who else? – Gluten Free Girl and the Chef that I use about once every couple of weeks. The best part about homemade mayo is you can add anything you want to customize it. I’ve tried, and loved:

  • garlic
  • pesto
  • bay leaves
  • cayenne pepper
  • extra lemon
  • rosemary
  • tarragon

Of course, mayo isn’t your only option for dipping. There’s also:

…or any of your favorite GF dips and sauces!

So what do you think? Are you an artichoke fan? A novice? A pro? A hater? Is this something you might try? What kinds of dips do/would you use on your artichokes?