Artichokes (Selecting and Cooking the Best Ones) and Lemon Garlic ["Aoili" Inspired] Dip

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We wanted to find out how to choose the best artichokes — so we took a road trip to Castroville.

We were lucky enough to go on a farm tour and see this firsthand.  You can visit an artichoke farm during the Castroville Artichoke Festival: http://www.artichoke-festival.org/ .

Artichoke field and plant:

The globe artichokes (most of what we eat) are grown on perennial plants, and are harvested by hand:

Selecting the Best Artichokes

Heavy: pick the ones that feel the heaviest.
Firm: A “firm” artichoke refers to when it’s not dehydrated or limp. The petals should be tightly held together (not like the one in the picture above — where the artichoke is “open”, like a flower in bloom – you want a firm artichoke, such as the one pictured below).
Healthy Green Color: The artichoke should be a healthy green color, and not brown. It’s optimal to cook artichokes “fresh” — within five to seven days of purchase.

Fresh Storage Tip: similar to when we buy or receive fresh cut flowers, we slice a small amount (the dehydrated/dry part) off of the stem, briefly dip stem in water; refrigerate in an airtight plastic bag.

Cooking: Tips, Methods, and Recipes

Cooking Tips
1. Artichokes will start to turn brown after cutting them with a metal blade: the oxidation process, which turns artichokes brown, can be tempered by rubbing the cut side of the artichoke with lemon juice – the citric acid in the lemon juice helps to slow down the oxidation/discoloration.  You will want to cook the artichokes in a non-reactive cooking vessel (i.e., enamel, stainless steel, glass, ceramic, etc.)

2. It’s not necessary to trim off all of the tips (unless you’re out to get “presentation points”), the tips will soften during cooking (see below).  If you trim the tips, you will want to cover the cut portion with lemon juice (or another similar citric type acid) to reduce the effects from the oxidation.

3. The inside portion of the stem is actually edible. Once the artichoke has been cooked, the outer layers can be peeled back, and the inside of the stem can be eaten. Prior to cooking, cut the dry end back (if you’ve followed the storage tip above, cut approximately 1/4″ off the bottom), and dip in lemon juice.

4. There are several ways to cook an artichoke: all are fine. We’ve listed the most popular ways to cook an artichoke below, with cooking times. Note that if you’re planning to grill an artichoke, its’ best to grill after having completed a primary cooking method (via steaming, etc).

5. You’ll know that the artichokes are finished cooking when you can pierce the bottom of the stem with a sharp knife, and the consistency is “similar to that of a baked potato”.

Cooking Methods and Times

Please Note: Cooking times are based on 1 Medium-sized Artichoke.  If you are cooking multiple artichokes, the cooking time must be adjusted.

Fastest Cooking Time:

Microwave: ~ 18 minutes (microwave power and artichoke size dependent) for 1 Medium-sized Artichoke. It’s important to not overcook the artichoke, so I recommend starting at a lower amount of time, and work your way up incrementally.
Directions: Rinse the artichokes, cut off a small amount from the bottom, an and slice in half, from tip to end. Rub the cut/exposed side with lemon and sprinkle lemon juice over the outer layers. In a large microwavable container, add 1/2 c water, 3 Tablespoons lemon juice, 1/3 c olive oil, place the artichokes face side down. Cover and cook.

Other Cooking Methods:

Steaming: ~ 30 minutes for 1 Medium-sized Artichoke or 45 minutes for a Jumbo-sized Artichoke.
pros – retains all the vitamins and nutrients that can be lost by boiling.
Directions: Place the steaming basket at the bottom of the pot, and add enough water into the pot to reach the bottom of the basket. Rinse the artichokes, cut off a small amount from the bottom, and place head side down (stems should be facing up). cover. Bring water to a boil, and let steam.

Boiling: ~ 30 minutes for 1 Medium-sized Artichoke or 45 minutes for a Jumbo-sized Artichoke.
Directions: Add water to the pot and bring the water to a boil. Rinse the artichokes, cut off a small amount from the bottom, and place head side down (stems should be facing up) into the boiling water. (Tip: If you want to ensure that the artichokes are fully submerged into the water, place a bowl or plate on top of the ends to weigh them down). Cover and let cook.

Grilling: Grilling is best done after the artichoke has been cooked.
Directions: Additional 4-5 minutes, once cooked. If the cooked artichokes are still whole, slice them in half, from tip to end. Cover the entire surface of the artichokes in cooking oil *. Place on a heated grill (roughly 350F), turning every couple of minutes.

Recipe for Dipping Artichokes

Being on a low sodium and low fat diet, the days where we dipped our artichokes in  butter are long gone (USDA notes 6 mg sodium, but 122 mg cholesterol for quarter cup of unsalted butter). We generally share one large artichoke.

As an alternative, cooked artichokes can be dipped in a lemon garlic (“aioli” inspired) dip.  I’m providing a “lower sodium” lemon garlic “aoili” inspired dip, because the actual aoili emulsion process may not work out for everyone (and contains 3 egg yolks, which USDA measures 553 mg cholesterol, and 24 mg sodium). Please note that this recipe below is based on a “low sodium mayonnaise”: the USDA notes “low sodium mayo” measures 13 mg cholesterol, and 62 mg sodium — per quarter cup.  You may find that the low sodium mayo in your fridge contains different nutritional facts — always be mindful that recipes and nutrient contents vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. In the end, it’s remembering to keep it all in balance.

Lemon Garlic (“Aoili” Inspired) Dip

This is a versatile little sauce/dip that can used for many purposes. (We think this is enough for one artichoke)

1/4 cup “low sodium mayonnaise”
1/2 teaspoon garlic, pureed
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Combine and mix together. Chill for approximately 1/2 hour.

About Johanna

Johanna weaves together a love for global foods and wanderlust in Low Sodium Blog. Inspired by her foodie family, who met a number of serious health challenges and adapted to low sodium diets on a turn of a dime, Low Sodium Blog chronicles their (farm) source to table expeditions, culinary travel, low sodium recipes, healthy eating adventures, and more. She and her family live in Los Angeles, California, a great travel hub and culinary playground.

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