Artichokes are one of my absolute favorite vegetables! They remind me of eating them with my Dad, rest his soul, who introduced me to chokes when I was a little girl. Growing up in Santa Cruz, only a few miles down the highway from the artichoke capital of the world – Castroville, California – they were a common guest on our dinner plate. I was one of the lucky ones! However, I realize that not everyone has had the same experience and opportunity to get familiar with this wonderful vegetable.
When I shared that we were cooking artichokes for dinner last month on Instagram, many folks showed interest in how we prepared them. So much so, I realized I should share a blogpost about it! Furthermore, I polled the IG community if they wanted me to include not only how to cook artichokes, but also show how to actually eat them. 95% said yes, they wanted those tips too! Some people even said they were afraid of eating artichokes, or purposefully avoided them, because they had no idea how to tackle and eat the damn things! Well that is just a cryin’ shame… because artichokes are SO good. Let’s change that now, okay?
Follow along to learn how we prepare and eat artichokes. As with most things, we like to keep it as simple and low-fuss as possible. Therefore, these cooking instructions include little-to-no prep work, zero skills to master, but alllll the good eating to follow. The artichokes are half boiled, half steamed, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Once they are done, you can either enjoy them straight up, or dip the perfectly soft, meaty leaves and heart into your choice of dipping sauce. Don’t worry! I will show you which parts to eat, and which parts to compost.
HOW TO PREPARE & COOK AN ARTICHOKE
Step 1: Prep the Artichoke
Hopefully you were able to find some big fatties. In the artichoke world, bigger absolutely means better. They’ll have more leaves to enjoy, and a larger heart inside. Because who doesn’t love a big heart? Little guys are great too – just plan to possibly eat several of them! One large artichoke is filling enough to serve as a meal on its own.
First, wash your chokes well. Then trim off the bottom quarter-inch of the artichoke stem. If it has a super long stem, cut it down to about an inch.
An optional step is to trim off the pokey thorns on the tip of the leaves. We usually skip this step these days (See? No fuss.) but my Dad always used to do it for me. Sometimes, when the choke-pokes are looking extra ornery, we do trim them still. It’s your call! If you choose to remove the thorns, it is easiest to do by trimming each outer leaf tip off with clean kitchen scissors. Then at the very top where the leaves come together, use a serrated knife to cut off the top half-inch to inch, removing most of the thorns at once.
Step 2: Boil – Steam
Some people boil their artichokes, and others like to steam them. We prefer a combination of the two! The goal is to mostly steam the leaves but boil the denser stem and heart.
Fill a large stock pot with water – enough that about the bottom quarter to one-half of the artichoke will be submerged in water inside the pot when placed stem-down. Next, add a few dashes of salt to the water, along with one or two clean, halved lemons. For garlic-lovers, try tucking a couple of cloves between the artichoke leaves. Bring the water to a boil before adding the artichokes.
Once the water is boiling, add the artichokes to the pot. Allow the water to return to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a constant simmer. Cover the pot with a lid to capture steam.
The time to fully cook will vary depending on the size of your artichokes. The larger chokes we cook take around 35 to 45 minutes. To assess if they’re done, poke the base or stem with a fork. When the stem is tender and the outer leaves easily peel off, it’s ready!
While cooking, rotate the artichokes just a couple of times to promote even cooking. Keep the stem portion down if possible, but alternate the side that is laying in the water more. If they’re freely floating about, you don’t need to worry about it so much.
Step 3: Serve
When the time is right, carefully remove the artichokes from the pot. I do this using a large slotted serving spoon, and hold them over the pot with their stems facing upwards for a moment – to drain excess water out of their bodies. Allow the water to cool and use it to water a plant, or even drink it chilled! There are some good nutrients in there.
We serve our artichokes whole, straight from the pot. However, another popular variation is to cut them in half (splitting the stem and heart portion in half), scoop out the choke (described below), brush them with olive oil, and finish them cut-side down on the grill.
Let’s face it: one of the best parts of eating artichokes is the dipping sauce!
The most popular options are mayonnaise (or vegan mayo) or melted butter, or some variation thereof – such as garlic or salted butter. Personally, I love a hint of lemon in my artichoke dipping sauce! We typically mix fresh-squeeze Meyer lemon juice into our mayo. For an extra tasty twist, create a simple lemon garlic aioli. Add a little lemon juice plus minced garlic into regular or vegan mayonnaise, and salt and pepper to taste. Bam. Our dill, lemon, and garlic yogurt dipping sauce also pairs wonderfully with artichokes!
Now, on to the fun part!
HOW TO EAT & DECONSTRUCT A WHOLE ARTICHOKE
Eating Artichoke Leaves
I think most people are fairly familiar with how to eat artichoke leaves, but just in case… here is the scoop:
Only eat the portion of the leaf that is closest to the heart. Peel off the leaves and dip each one in your sauce of choice. But you can’t really “bite” an artichoke leaf, because the outside of the leaf is more fibrous than the inner, fleshy side. Therefore, use your teeth to scrape away the inside of the artichoke leaf. I use my bottom teeth. Aaron uses his top teeth. How about you?
It is common for the handful of outermost leaves to be more tough, so don’t get discouraged if they aren’t as tender or cooked as you’d hoped. Keep going. The middle leaves will be far softer! Discard the spent leaves into a separate bowl to compost later.
I take back what I said earlier… As you work your way through the artichoke and get closer to the center, you WILL be able to actually “bite” off the soft meaty ends of the tender inner leaves – straight through. Yum! Keep dipping.
Then there will come a point that the leaves are so thin, it is quite silly to eat just one at a time. So collect a pinch of many little softies at once, and keep dipping!
Finally, you will come to a point where the leaves end, and the middle furry fibers begin. Stop dipping.
Extracting the Heart
After all of the artichoke leaves are removed, what is left is arguably the best part: the artichoke heart. Yet it is a guarded heart! On top, it is covered with tiny, fuzzy, fibrous filaments. That section is called “the choke”. You do not want to eat the choke. Though it isn’t bad for you, it is certainly not pleasant. Thankfully, it is very easy to remove! Simply scoop away the choke section with a spoon, unveiling the heart below.
Side note: Did you know that the choke is actually the immature flower portion of the artichoke? If allowed to grow long enough to bloom, the choke is what turns into this stunning purple flower! Even more, they’re loaded with pollen for the bees!
Finally, you’ll want to cut the stem away from the artichoke heart too. The inner portion of the stem is meaty and edible, but the outsides are stringy and gross. Dissect as desired to enjoy.
Voilà! Now that you have the heart all exposed and vulnerable, you can devour it.
Eat your heart out.
How to Cook & Eat and Artichoke
- Dipping sauce of choice
- Wash artichoke, and trim off the bottom quarter inch of stem.
- Optional: Trim off thorns on the tips of the outer leaves, and cut off the top inch of the entire artichoke.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. The pot should have a few inches of water to submerge the lower 1/3 of the artichoke. Add a couple of halved, washed lemons and dashes of salt to the water.
- Once boiling, place the artichoke(s) in the pot, stem portion down.
- Continue to simmer with the lid on the pot until the the stem and base of the artichoke is tender to the fork, or approximately 30-45 minutes (depending on artichoke size).
- Remove artichokes from water with a slotted spoon stem-up, allowing water to drain from the leaves.
- Finally, serve with your choice of dipping sauce, such as mayonnaise, vegan mayo, melted butter, garlic butter, or garlic and lemon mixed in mayo to create an aioli.
- To eat the artichoke: Dip the leaves in sauce and use your teeth to scrape away the inner meaty portion that was connected to the heart. Discard the remaining tough part of the leaves in a separate bowl. The outer leaves are more tough than the middle and inner ones, where you'll be able to eat more soft artichoke flesh. Keep plucking and removing leaves until there are none left. Next, use a spoon to gently scoop out the fibrous, furry "choke" part in the very center to discard. The heart is underneath! Also remove the stem. The inner portion of the stem is tender and edible, but the outer portion is stringy.
In closing, I truly hope that you found this article useful! Even more, that it enables some of you to enjoy your very first artichokes. If so – you’re welcome in advance! Because fresh, rich, simply-prepared artichokes can’t be beat!