all choked up

the only meal I ever missed

Every child has a stock answer to the question, “What do you want for dinner tonight?” The kids I babysit answer the same way every time: “CANDY!” When I inform them for the zillionth time that candy isn’t an option, they usually follow up with a request for pizza.

When my mom used to pick me up from elementary school and ask what I wanted to eat that night, I’d always reply, “artichokes!” Artichokes accompanied birthdays and special occasions, and sometimes I’d get lucky and have them on a regular old weekday.

One such lucky day was a warm fall Friday afternoon in first grade. My best friend Josie came over after school, and we stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up the artichokes. When we arrived home, Josie and I went out into the stream in the woods behind my house to play. We spent the afternoon throwing rocks, jumping into pools, piling sticks, and discussing things likely so deep and complex that they would now escape my grasp. After a while, my mother’s voice drifted across the pond into the woods where we were playing. Josie’s dad had arrived to take her home. We looked at each other woefully.

I have an independent streak that’s gotten me into a few spots of trouble, and like any good best friend, Josie usually follows my lead. I turned to Josie and said, “It’s okay, just pretend not to hear them. They’ll never know.” Josie complied, we continued to play, and after a minute we were able to tune out their calls. We stayed by the stream for a little while longer and then returned to my house where we feigned surprise that Josie’s father had been waiting for over half an hour.

Josie, to her credit, had an incredibly well-developed moral compass at the young age of six. She couldn’t hold in the secret, and later that night my parents got a call from Josie’s informing them that Josie had blurted out the truth. I, obviously, was identified as the evil mastermind, and spent the next ten years of my life terrified of Josie’s parents. But that is another story.

This particular story ends like this: My parents, unsure of how to deal with their insolent child, sent me to bed without dinner. The missed artichoke opportunity haunts me to this day. To make up for it, here are three (!) ways to cook artichokes, plus three delicious dipping sauces to make this finger food all the more fun. I’ll never go hungry again.

How to Cook an Artichoke, Plus Three Dipping Sauces
4 artichokes
1 clove garlic (optional)
1 bay leaf (optional)

Simple dipping sauce:
1 stick butter, melted
1 tsp dried thyme
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Fancy dipping sauce:
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp plain yogurt
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Mama Duke’s special sauce:
¾ cup mayonnaise
Juice of 1 lemon
1 stick butter, melted
Salt and pepper to taste

When you’re picking out your ‘chokes, make sure to select ones whose leaves are still tightly closed, not loose or blooming. These will be fresher and more flavorful. Cut the artichoke stems until they’re about an inch long. (Some say to chop off the tops of each artichoke, but I don’t know why and I’ve never done it.) Rinse artichokes thoroughly in cold water.

The simplest and most classic method of cooking artichokes is boiling. To boil, fill a large pot with water and a sliced lemon. Once it is boiling, add the artichokes. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until soft. Drain water from artichokes before eating.

Steaming is a little slower, but the artichokes will retain more of their nutrients. Put a few inches of water in a pot with lemon slices, garlic, and bay leaf. Add steamer attachment with artichokes, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 40 minutes. Drain water from artichokes before eating.

Once your artichokes have been boiled or steamed, they are ready to eat. If you want to add a little crispy texture or smoky flavor, a third option is to grill them, but this can only be done when the artichokes are already boiled or steamed. To grill, cut each artichoke in half lengthwise, and scrape out the choke (the inedible hairy looking part in the middle). Brush with a little olive oil and lie facedown on the grill until perfectly charred.

For each of the dipping sauces, just add the ingredients to a bowl and whisk until combined. Taste test to see which one suits your fancy.

If you’ve never eaten one of these spiny veggies before, you’re in for a treat! It’s a fun, hands-on adventure. Holding the artichoke by its spiny tip, peel off the leaves one by one or a few at a time. After dipping in your chosen sauce, use your teeth to scrape off the flesh on the inside of the leaf. Once you’ve worked your way down to the choke, use a knife to cut and scoop the choke out of its basin. What remains—the heart and stem of the artichoke—is just as delicious as the leaves. Keep dipping and eating until there’s nothing left.