I always considered artichoke to be a very enigmatic vegetable. It’s just so unlike simple and straightforward carrots, squashes, tomatoes, potatoes, etc that you just peel, boil, eat (or just wash and eat). Compared to the ‘normal’ vegetables we see on store shelves, artichokes are just flat out intimidating and for a good reason. Turns out, there are actually flowers, not vegetables! So the beautiful, green-purple petals that we eat are part of a flower bud before it comes into bloom.
I still remember the first time I attempted to cook an artichoke when I lived in Texas. It was a disaster. The boiled leaves were tough as leather after an hour of cooking and looked very unappetizing (I found out later that old artichokes are pretty much a lost cause as they’ll remain tough even after hours of cooking). Frustrated with a $4 per globe waste of money, I decided I didn’t like artichokes. Then, a year later I decided I should give it another try. This time, I was educated enough to spot a fresh globe and decided to simply steam it in a shallow pool of simmering water with lemon for half an hour. The results were a far cry from my original attempt! The tender leaves were falling apart at the touch and the flesh at the base of leaves was as soft as butter. When I made my way to the artichoke heart, it practically melted in my mouth with a delicate flavor I can’t describe.
I think it’s pretty incredible how diverse our diet can be once we open ourselves to new and unexplored possibilities. Sure, it’s nice to have the so-called ‘comfort’ food that you grew up on to fall back on day after day for everyday meals. After all, our life and health depends on eating frequently (and well!) but in general, we don’t ponder too long on what to put in our mouth. We reach for things that are familiar and require minimal resources (time and money) and move on to more important things (family, friends, work). There is nothing wrong with such behavior – after all, we all have different priorities.
However I would like to share with you the challenge I set for myself couple years ago and that I still work on: when I do my weekly grocery shopping, I buy at least one whole food (i.e. minimally processed) ingredient that I had not tried or cooked with before. It can be an unfamiliar vegetable, fruit, grain, legume, oil, spice, or herb. Once I bring it home, I research online to find out the origins of the thing I just bought, what cultures use it, how to prepare it, and what are the nutritional benefits. You’ll be amazed how vast and diverse the world of whole foods is! I treat it almost like a game, a scavenger hunt, in which I am looking for edible ‘treasures’, first in the neighborhood shops, then in remote parts of city, and finally visiting outdoor markets in other countries. I find it very exciting to discover new flavors, tasting them for the first time, and sharing the knowledge I gained with my friends, colleagues, and random strangers on trains.
So what new ingredient will you try this week? ;)
Steamed Artichoke with Blood Orange-Almond dressing
Serves 1 (or 2 as an appetizer)
– 1 artichoke (select globes with tight leaf formation that look fresh)
– 2 lemon slices
– 2 tbsp flaked raw almonds
– 1 blood orange (or any variety)
– 1 tbsp almond oil (or another nut oil)
– 1 tsp herbs de provance (or your favorite fresh herb)
– pinch of salt
Rinse an artichoke and shake off excess water. Lay the artichoke on its side and, using knife, trim the top portion by 3cm / 1.5in to get rid of sharp ends. Using scissors, trim the top ends of the outer leaves, cutting away any dry or sharp ends. Use the lemon slices to rub the top and sides of the artichoke to prevent from browning. Bring 4cm / 2in of water to a boil in a pot and place the artichoke inside vertically, adding used lemon slices to the water. Cover with a lid and steam for 35-40 minutes, depending on artichoke’s size.
In the meantime, prepare the dressing: squeeze the orange to get about quarter cup of juice, add almond oil, spices or herbs, and salt. Whisk for few seconds to combine. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F and toast almonds for couple of minutes (they’ll brown quickly so don’t walk away!).
Once the artichoke feels soft the touch, drain the water and slice artichoke in half lengthwise (or keep it intact if you prefer), pour the dressing and sprinkle toasted almonds. To eat, pull one leaf at a time and eat only bottom (soft) part, discarding the top (fibrous) part. When you get to the core, be sure to remove the fuzzy, sometimes almost sharp, center with a spoon. There you’ll discover the best part – tender, flavorful artichoke heart!