Artichokes belong to the thistle family, and are actually unopened flower buds. Mild and earthy in flavor, the fleshy bottoms of the leaves can be eaten but the meaty heart of the artichoke is what gives this vegetable its substance. Artichokes are high in fiber, potassium, iron, calcium and phosphorus, all of which are important for maintaining a healthy and balanced system, and are also known to help poor liver function, lower bad cholesterol, improve appetite and digestion, and even rid the body of excess water and toxins.
**All About Artichokes**
In Season: Artichokes
When to Buy: There are four main varieties of artichokes which are in season at different times, so at least one type can usually be found in supermarkets all year round. However, peak artichoke season is typically from late March through May and some of the most popular types of artichokes come into season during the summer, making them more readily available in supermarkets and at farmers’ markets.
Globe Artichoke: The most common variety of artichoke, these are large, vibrant green, and have tender petals and a delicate heart. Although available all year round, peak season for Globe artichokes are from March until May.
Baby Artichoke: Baby artichokes grow on the lower portion of the plant, and are a smaller version of Globe artichokes. Also available all year round, peak season for Baby artichokes is March through May and September through November.
Long Stem Artichoke: Unlike the other artichoke varieties, Long Stem artichokes have edible stems and thick meat in their petals. These are typically available only when they are in season, which is March through May and July through August.
Purple Artichoke: Dark purple in color, these artichokes tend to have a more bitter taste than the other varieties. However, the Purple artichoke has a higher nutritional value than other artichokes, and can be found all year round.
What to Buy: Look for artichokes that have a healthy color (vibrant green or green tinted with a rich purple), are undamaged and have tightly closed leaves. Fresh artichokes have a high moisture content, and will therefore seem heavy for their size. Depending on what you are cooking or prefer, choose smaller artichokes for more tender leaves and larger artichokes for bigger hearts.
Prep & Storage: Artichokes can be kept fresh by sprinkling them with a little water and storing them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. However, like any fresh produce, it is always best to eat artichokes as soon as possible for maximum flavor.
How to Cook: Artichokes are very versatile and are great simply steamed or grilled and eaten by peeling off the leaves and dipping in lemon juice, melted butter or hollandaise sauce. Artichoke hearts, which can also be found jarred or canned, are a tasty addition to sandwiches, pizza, pasta and salads. If cooking a whole artichoke, remove and discard the toughest outer leaves and snip off the sharp leaf tips. Break off the stalk at the base (unless eating long stemmed artichokes), and gently pry open the leaves to get to the core. From this point, you can either cook the whole artichoke or pull out the central ‘choke’, or heart. Carefully scrape out the fine hairs surrounding the heart’s meat, and rinse off the heart as well as the inside of the artichoke, sprinkling with lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
Recipe Box: Check out some of our favorite artichoke recipes!
Spinach Artichoke Dip
Who needs classic sour cream or onion dip when you can wow your friends with this?
Artichoke, Sundried Tomato, Olive and Feta Flatbread
Artichoke hearts add some Mediterranean flare to this simple flatbread recipe.
Enjoy the fresh taste of spring and summer with this salad that uses lots of artichoke hearts!
Antipasti Grilled Cheese
This twist on a classic gets creative with some artichoke pesto!
Sarah McAnaw is a junior at American University where she studies International Studies and Biology. After cooking (and eating!) her way through a semester in Florence, Italy last fall, she’s headed south to Haifa, Israel this spring to study the Arab-Israeli conflict and experience the culinary flavors of the Middle East first hand.