A package of health benefits and even believed to be an aphrodisiac, artichokes have been consumed for over three thousand years for its healthy advantages. Learn the tricks that go into cooking this thistle-like vegetable and the beliefs that were woven around its mysterious properties.

When I discovered artichoke in a small vegetable shop in front of my restaurant located at Jhamsikhel, I was beaming with pleasure. It’s been seven years since I left Hong Kong, ever since I haven’t really been able to indulge in cooking artichokes. There are certain tricks that go into cooking and serving artichokes because of its thorny texture. I was fortunate to learn these tricks from master chefs during my internship days. Having cooked it several times, I found out that artichoke is more than just a wild vegetable made popular by the Romans.

Artichoke is native to the Mediterranean region, which is basically an edible flower bud of a thistle and consumed as vegetable. The botanical name Cynara Scolymus is derived from the Latin name canina meaning thistle in English. It is believed that mankind has been eating artichoke for more than 3000 years. With the fall of the Roman Empire, Italians adapted the artichoke and later on Catherine de Medici, who married King Henry II, brought the artichoke to France. Artichokes became popular in France as well, and the popularity made its way to Britain. Ultimately the Italian migrants took it with them across the oceans to America. Today, California is known for producing 100 percent of United States’ artichokes used for commercial purposes.

Elizabethan folklore traces artichokes to a story about God being angered by the arrogance of a beautiful woman. God converted her into a thistle as a lesson and the bud of this thistle was an artichoke. The Roman scholars gave artichokes an esteemed pedestal among other vegetables as the most valuable garden herb at one time. It is also believed that ancient physicians prescribed artichokes as an aphrodisiac, along with remedies for a variety of physical ailments. In the 16th century eating an artichoke would be a scandalous adventure for any woman. At that time, because the artichoke was considered an aphrodisiac, it was reserved for men only.

The best benefit of artichoke is good news for weight watchers— it is low in calories with only 60 units to a bud. They are naturally fat free and work as a digestive aid. A recent study shows that artichokes help to control blood sugar in diabetics and lower cholesterol levels thus warding off arteriosclerosis. Artichokes have high amount of natural sodium with good sources of fiber, potassium and magnesium.

How to eat artichokes?
Being a thistle it looks and is tough in texture when uncooked. It is basically simple and the best part remains in the center which is called the heart of the artichoke. First starting at the base of the artichoke, pluck the base leaves. The leaves are tenderer towards the top which have larger edible portions. Avoid the hairy ‘choke’ in the middle which may prove to be a choking hazard. When steamed or boiled, it is edible after being peeled. Artichoke leaves can be simply enjoyed with mayonnaise. You can also add garlic and melted butter to make it zesty.

Cooking Tips

  • l The basic standard of cooking artichoke is baking, boiling and steaming.
  • l Adding sea salt and rubbing with lemon juice while steaming or baking will enhance the taste.
  • l Adding lemon juice prevents it from darkening in color.
  • l Heart of artichoke should not be eaten raw, rather cook it with lemon juice and vinegar water.
  • l You can add the stems to salad or other vegetables.
  • l The fastest way to cook artichokes is to cook it in pressure cooker with salted water.

Italian Steamed Artichokes

2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp Italian dressing
2 tbsp olive oil

Steam the artichokes for 15 minutes. Prepare a dip from balsamic vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Add a little bit of butter to enhance the taste. Then pluck the leaves and place in the above dip. Enjoy the simplicity. !

You can find artichokes in a small vegetable shop on the Jhamsikhel lane, opposite GG Machaan and next to Sing-Ma Food Court. Make sure you order in advance.