The Artichoke Baby Boom

Keep your eyes peeled for baby artichokes during May for a real treat. These smaller versions don’t have a hairy choke to worry about, they cook up quickly, they don’t have thorny leaves, and they can be eaten in their entirety, minus a few outer leaves. Even if you don’t find the baby artichokes, the typical bigger artichokes (Globe or French) can be less daunting to prepare if you know a few simple methods, found below. Given that artichokes have an amazing antioxidant content, a delicious flavor, and awesome nutritional value, you will want to start eating them all the time.

The United States Department of Agriculture has ranked artichokes (regardless of size) as the number one vegetable in antioxidant phytonutrient content, and of all 1,113 commonly consumed foods and beverages analyzed, cooked artichokes were ranked 4th for total antioxidants.  Also, artichokes contain a compound called cynarin, which research has found stimulates taste bud receptors and makes even mediocre food taste delicious.  Cynarin is also responsible for bringing a sweet flavor to any foods eaten immediately after eating the artichoke. Yum!  Research is also showing that cynarin, as well as the phytonutrient silymarin, also found in artichokes, have strong positive effects on the liver and may help with liver diseases and hangovers.

One large artichoke contains 10 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein, as well as 25% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C and vitamin K, and 22% of the RDV of folate.   Artichokes are also an excellent source of magnesium, potassium (an equivalent amount to bananas), copper and manganese, and a good source of vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6, iron, and phosphorus.  Also present in artichokes are thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, vitamin E, calcium, and zinc.  That’s a lot of nutrition packed into 65 calories for one medium artichoke.

Fill a bowl with cold water and squeeze a lemon in the water.  Throw lemon rinds in the water as well.  Peel back and snap off all the outer petals of the baby artichokes until you reach the layer of petals that are green at the top and a very pale green or yellow below (a great job for the kids since baby artichokes don’t have thorny leaves).  Chop off the top cone of your artichoke, which is the point where the green color begins, and cut the brown off the bottom and stem.  Halve or quarter as desired, but make sure that each piece has some of the core bottom to keep it together.  After trimming each one, quickly place it in your lemon water to slow browning.

Steam the baby artichokes until very tender (cooking time varies based on their size) and serve with a little drizzle of garlic infused olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and sea salt.  Braising is also a terrific way to cook baby artichokes.  Coat pan with olive oil and add artichokes.  Cook for a few minutes and add stock or wine to the pan.  Cover pan and let them cook until tender.  Add salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice to taste.  Watch Rachel Ray use this braising method as she prepares her yummy Springtime Spaghetti with Baby Artichokes and Herbs.

Regular artichokes can be easily prepared by drizzling equal parts olive oil and red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice between the leaves of a trimmed artichoke.  Sprinkle with salt.  Wrap the artichoke in heavy-duty foil and bake at 425 degrees for 60 to 80 minutes until its base is tender, depending on the size.  The artichoke is done when the base pierces easily with a fork.  For easy stuffed artichokes, spread the leaves (after they are steamed or baked and then cooled).  Remove the center leaves and scoop out the choke if you have not already done this prior to cooking.  No need to dip the leaves, but if you must, use olive oil, lemon juice and sea slat to dip the leaves and heart.  Fill with your favorite pilaf, chicken or seafood salad.   Be creative; the options are endless and they make artichokes even tastier.

If your only experience with artichokes is marinated artichokes from a jar, give fresh artichokes a try.  Marinated artichokes can be heavy in taste,  especially for children.  Frozen artichoke hearts are a fast substitute in a pinch.  If children can help prepare these interesting-looking vegetables, they will be much more apt to like them.  Don’t feel like you need to use butter or mayonnaise with artichokes.  Olive oil, fresh lemon juice and sea salt is just as tasty and so much healthier.

Take May’s (2012) Healthy Challenge and serve and eat freshly-cooked artichokes frequently.  This nutrient-dense food is worth stepping out of your comfort zone for, for its wonderful flavor and excellent nutrition.  May is the best month to find baby artichokes, which are easier to prepare and a special treat.