The Art of the Artichoke Words and Images: Lakshmi Harilela

The artichoke was claimed to be a symbol of love in ancient Greece. It was believed that the God Zeus created it to reveal his love towards his mortal lover Cynara. What a beautiful and yet complex vegetable, the artichoke is revered for its external beauty and internal health benefits. The external spikes symbolise that the heart or love must be tested for it to be pure. To get to the middle or heart of the artichoke is quite a challenge for first timers and this is representative of the trials and tribulations of love. An interesting fact is that artichokes greatly enhance heart activity and blood clotting. Donʼt be afraid to experiment with these complex beauties, for the artichoke offers up good sources of magnesium, potassium, folate, vitamin C, iron and many antioxidants. The major nutrient is a photochemical by the name of cynarin; this phytochemical is known to boost liver and gallbladder function, as well as lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol. Factually, artichokes were used as medicine during the time of ancient Greece and were later used in cooking by the Italians, French, North Africans and were brought to North America by the European immigrants. There are three types of artichokes, the Globe, Jerusalem and Chinese artichoke. Of the Globe type there are over 50 varieties to chose from. It is a well known vegetable in the Ayurvedic community for its balancing and tri-doshic properties. (Tridoshic means that it is suitable for most body types and will not aggravate them.) California is the region where the majority of artichokes are produced worldwide and Marylin Monroe was crowned the first artichoke queen in 1949. Perhaps there is more to this vegetable than meets the eye. Eating according to the seasons will ensure that optimal nutrition is gained, so the best time to procure these vegetables is from early March through till May or in October, when they are harvested. In the fall or winter artichokes assume a darker colour on the tips, this bronzing colour occurs because of the frost that forms on them. Artichokes aid in digestion and boost energy levels as well as detoxify the body from an accumulation of toxic substances. If you are a first time user, take your time to explore these magnificent creations.

When selecting artichokes, make sure that the leaves are tightly wrapped around the heart avoiding browning artichokes or soft ones. They should be fairly firm with a rich green colour to them. A squeaky leaf signifies freshness, so listen carefully. Once good artichokes have been selected there is a very specific way to prepare them in order to save your fingers from small thorns. First you need to put on a pair of gloves and use scissors to snip off the thorns from the leaves, make sure you get each leaf, but donʼt cut all the way down, only a fraction where the thorn resides. The middle part before reaching the heart is known as the choke, the name states exactly what it will do to you if you are not careful, so using a melon baller, tea spoon or small paring knife, carefully scoop it out. Once the preparation has been complete, they can be steamed for 25 to 30 minutes or pressure cooked for half the time, they can also be boiled for around 30 to 40 minutes too. The best way to enjoy these is with a squeeze of lemon or dipped in a garlic mayonnaise. Once you taste the artichoke, there is no going back, you can prepare them and preserve them in olive oil for up till 6 months in the fridge.

So be bold and daring and try your artichoke today. Recipes can be obtained from

www.lovetruefood.com