I was a college student at Cornell University in the late 1970s, and lived in a hippie co-op. There were five of us, three women and two men, three girls from the U.S., one guy from Switzerland and one guy from Peru.
We shared cooking and shopping duties, and between the five of us we had a Moosewood Cookbook, a membership to the local veggie co-op and a desire to share meals together. It was in this house, that my view of food—and what it meant to enjoy meals in the company of others–changed radically.
One of my most vivid memories is of my first experience eating an artichoke. My roommates appropriately dubbed me an “artichoke virgin,” because I had never before partaken in the artichoke “experience.”
I quickly found out that lot of effort went into eating this grenade-like green vegetable (which, by the way, is really a member of the thistle family!). Getting to the…uh…heart of the matter was more complicated than simply lifting fork to mouth. But once you got there, for a few brief moments, you’d experience pure taste bud ecstasy.
To prepare our hedonistic feast, my housemate first cut off an inch of the artichoke’s stem with a knife and the tips of the leaves with a pair of kitchen shears. Then, the artichokes were plopped into a steamer with water containing the seeds from a few cardamom pods. Another small pan held a chunk of butter, ready for melting. As the artichokes steamed and the butter melted, a heavenly aroma filled our house.
Then, it was time. We sat down together, artichokes on our plates and a bowl of butter nearby. Slowly, leaf by leaf, we peeled our artichokes. Reverently, we dipped each leaf into the butter, until nothing was left except the stem and the heart topped off by a splotch of fuzzy “choke.” After scraping the choke away, only the heart and stem remained, which we slathered with butter, oohing and aahing all the while from the divine deviousness of it all.
To this day when I cook artichokes I still toss seeds from a few cardamom pods into the water. I still melt butter (although now I also mix in a bit of olive oil). And the result is still taste-bud nirvana…just like I remember it, 30 years ago.
How to cook an artichoke
Use a kitchen scissors to cut off the thorny tips of all of the leaves. This step is mostly for aesthetics as the thorns soften with cooking and pose no threat to the person eating the artichoke.
2. Slice about 3/4 inch to an inch off the tip of the artichoke.
3. Pull off any smaller leaves towards the base and on the stem.
4. Cut excess stem, leaving up to an inch or two on the artichoke. Some people find the stem a tad bitter. I don’t.
5. Rinse the artichokes in running cold water.
Insert a steaming basket into a pot with water at the bottom. Add the seeds from 2-3 cardamom pods. Add the artichokes. Cover. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for approximately 45 minutes or until the outer leaves can easily be pulled off. Note: artichokes can also be cooked in a pressure cooker (about 15-20 minutes cooking time). Cooking time depends on how large the artichoke is, the larger, the longer it takes to cook.
Artichokes may be eaten cold or hot, but I think they are much better hot. They are served with a dip, either melted butter or mayonnaise. My favorite dip is butter with a little bit of olive oil mixed in.
1. Pull off outer petals, one at a time.
2. Dip white fleshy end in melted butter. Tightly grip the other end of the petal. Place in mouth, dip side down, and pull through teeth to remove soft, pulpy, delicious portion of the petal. Discard remaining petal.
3. With a knife or spoon, scrape out and discard the inedible fuzzy part (called the “choke”) covering the artichoke heart. The remaining bottom of the artichoke is the heart. Cut into pieces and dip into butter to eat.
4. Revel in the ecstasy of your experience.
5. Share with others.
Want to experience more taste-bud nirvana? Check out Wanderfood Wednesday!