Welcome to post number 4 in my 5-part series on winter fruits and vegetables! Be sure to check out the first three posts for more seasonal deliciousness:
Okay, I cheated a bit for this post. Today, it’s all about artichokes, which are technically a spring vegetable with a harvesting season beginning in March. That means you have a little under a month to get ready to enjoy all the amazing ways artichokes can be eaten and be ready to pick the perfect specimens when the time comes. As someone who has only eaten the “heart” of this veggie, I’m excited at the prospect of trying a fresh one this year!
What is an Artichoke, Anyway?
Did you know artichokes are edible flower buds from a species of thistle plant? The most common type to appear in grocery stores is the green globe artichoke, although there are also purple and white varieties. These unique veggies were introduced to the U.S. in the 1600s, courtesy of the Spanish. Today, almost 100 percent of the crop grown in the country originates in California, with three-quarters being grown in Castroville, the “Artichoke Center of the World.”
Domestic artichokes begin to appear in stores around March and stick around until June. You might be able to find them later into the season if the weather stays favorable in warmer areas of California.
Admirable Artichoke Benefits
When you want to go all in and enjoy artichokes before they’re stripped down to hearts and canned or packed in jars, it takes a little work. But with the benefits you can get, it’s well worth the time (and potentially getting poked by the leaves). Here’s what you’ll find in a 100-gram serving of artichokes:
- 47 calories
- 5.4 grams of dietary fiber
- 20% daily value of vitamin C
- 12% daily recommended intake of vitamin K
- 27% daily value of copper
- A wide range of B vitamins
- Trace minerals, including phosphorous, magnesium, manganese and iron
Fiber gives artichokes the apparent ability to lower cholesterol, binding with excess and escorting it out of the body before it can enter the bloodstream. Artichokes are also considered a bitter vegetable. Bitters contain compounds like cynarin, which stimulate the liver and gallbladder, help support healthy bile flow to provide a second avenue for clearing cholesterol. Better bile production and movement also aids in absorption of nutrients, especially fat-soluble vitamins.
Silymarin, caffeic acid and other antioxidants found in artichokes protect against free radical damage, which can cause inflammation and a multitude of other health problems if left unchecked. In tandem with fiber, these compounds may be part of the reason why artichokes are associated with a reduction in IBS symptoms. Vitamin K and phosphorous both play a role in maintaining bone health, working to fix calcium into bones and maintain proper mineral balance.
Selecting and Preparing Artichokes
Fresh artichokes can be intimidating if you’ve never cooked one, but picking the perfect green specimen is simple. Just look for artichokes with all the petals still closed, no bruising or splits and that feel heavy for their size. Ripe artichokes will squeak when squeezed (so of course, I’m going to have to try this). For recipes requiring artichoke hearts, look for canned varieties packed in water with minimal salt, or grab some frozen and thaw before using.
Fresh artichokes keep for up to a week when stored in the refrigerator in sealed bags. Don’t wash the artichokes before storing; instead, moisten the stem to promote freshness. When you’re ready to use the veggies, rinse thoroughly or soak in water with a bit of lemon juice to remove any grit. After cleaning, artichokes can be:
- Boiled upside-down in a pot of water until soft
- Steamed for about half an hour
Serve whole cooked artichokes as appetizers or side dishes, pulling off the leaves and scraping out the soft flesh with your teeth. The stem is also edible and can be eaten along with the bud or saved for use in another dish.
An Appendix of Artichoke Recipes
- Vegetable Pallea — Total bias here; this is my favorite recipe featuring artichoke hearts, and one of my favorite recipes ever. Each time Robin Robertson updates this dish, it gets better, and she really hit the nail on the head with the version from Vegan Without Borders.
- Pizza with Onions, Peppers, and Artichokes — From Nava Atlas’ VegKitchen
- Vegan Artichoke Pizza — Featured in The Daily Green
- Walnut-Crusted Artichoke Hearts — Spied on One Green Planet, these little appetizers are fried, but they look so good with the walnut coating that I couldn’t resist including them. I’m sure they could be baked instead!
- Healthy Spinach Artichoke Appetizer — Parties for Pennies lightens things up a bit with bite-sized stuffed mushrooms.
- Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip — It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken seems to have a thing for creating vegan cheese dishes that include the often-elusive “stretchy” element of dairy cheese, and this dish is no exception. (I’ve tried the stretchy mozzarella. It’s amazing.)
- Healthy Spinach Artichoke Dip — A quicker version of the iconic dip from Forks Over Knives, made with beans and nutritional yeast
Have you cooked whole artichokes, or are you more of an artichoke heart fan? Tell me how you plan to use artichokes in your spring meals!