When I was a kid, we thought artichokes were about as gourmet as you got. And for a good reason - they were exotic in Honolulu in the 1960's. My family loved artichokes. My mom would make us our own individual artichoke and we would dip the leaves in Best Foods mayonnaise if we were lazy, or melted lemon butter if we weren't.
Artichokes are really good for you
The ancient Greeks and Romans used artichokes medicinally. It turns out they knew what they were doing. Artichokes are high in vitamins C and K; are rated #7 on the USDA's top list of antioxidant foods; and they are rich in fiber, phytonutrients and minerals. Eating artichokes can help reduce LDL, increase HDL, protect against cancer, and promote bone, digestive and liver health. In fact, artichokes are considered good for a hangover due to their ability to support the liver.
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Look for frost-kissed artichokes
This is one of those cases where it is best not to judge a book by its cover. Spring is the season for artichokes, and the very best artichokes are frost-kissed. Frost-kissed artichokes look very ugly, with grayish flakey blisters on the outside of the leaves. This occurs when the temperature drops below 32 degrees F, and causes the flavors of the artichoke to intensify. So be on the look-out for this early spring treat.
Tips for preparing artichokes
Use stainless steel knives and pots, as aluminum will turn the artichoke black.
Trim off the tip of the artichoke with a knife and then use kitchen scissors to trim the leaves on the sides of the artichoke. Keep a half of a lemon handy as you trim your artichoke, because the trimmed artichoke leaves oxidize quickly. Squirt a little lemon juice on the cut-portions of the artichoke soon after the leaves are cut to prevent them from darkening.
To boil artichokes, put them tip-side up in a pot with a couple inches of water. Squeeze a half lemon into the pot and drop it in with the artichokes. Add a splash of olive oil. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Depending on the size of your artichokes, they will take 45-60 minutes to cook.
To steam artichokes, the cooking time is the same (45 - 60 minutes), but you place the artichokes in a steamer basket above boiling water. I like to steam artichokes before I grill them, because they hold up better on the grill. You shorten the steaming time a bit when you plan on finishing artichokes on the grill. See my Grilled Artichoke recipe for my favorite way to prepare artichokes.