Some foods remind me of places I’ve been or people I’ve known. Sometimes even just a food’s smell can trigger a particularly powerful memory. Artichokes will always remind me of being in my early twenties in Los Angeles with three lovely friends.
My dear friend Kiki introduced me and our friends Trish and Sheila to artichokes in a Los Angeles apartment. Kiki made this obscenely rich dipping sauce for the artichokes and we were hooked. We even grew them in our backyard in a house we rented a little later on.
I can’t get Mark and Charlie to share my love of artichokes, so I really haven’t made them much in the last handful of years. But I recently came across an artichoke steamer tucked in the back of my kitchen cabinet that Kiki gave me as a gift many years ago. I picked up an artichoke the next time I was in the grocery store and saved it for a time I was home alone so I could really savor it.
Artichokes with Kiki’s Sauce
- lemon juice
- olive oil and garlic clove (to use if you’re steaming the artichoke; they’re probably not really necessary)
Wash the artichoke by holding it, leaves up, under running water. Artichoke leaves have little prickly tips; if you’re feeling fancy, use some scissors to cut off the tops of the leaves with the prickly parts. Personally, I can’t be bothered.
There are basically two ways to cook an artichoke — steam it or boil it. I usually boil it by cutting off the stem and setting the artichoke in boiling water (with a little lemon juice if I have extra). Cook until tender and the leaves easily tear off from the artichoke — about 30-40 minutes (I find the time it takes for an artichoke to be fully cooked can vary tremendously). Drain the artichoke.
Now, that’s how I would have ordinarily cooked the artichoke. But since I had Kiki’s steamer, I used that instead.
The steamer directions say to leave the stem on the artichoke, cover it with water, add a crushed clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Cover and let steam for 45 minutes (or until the leaves tear off easily). I didn’t have a cover for this pan, so I just covered the whole thing with aluminum foil.
For the sauce, melt about 1 tablespoon of butter (I do this in a small bowl in the microwave), add about 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, and about 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise. Stir together. Adjust quantities, if desired. I like my sauce a little on the runny side and very lemony.
To eat, tear off a leaf, dip the bottom in the sauce, and scrape off the sauce-covered meaty goodness with your teeth. Discard the remaining part of the leaf. Continue in this manner until you get to the choke. You’ll know you’re there when all the leaves are gone and you’ve come across a sort of disgusting-looking hairy mess.
A lot of people remove the choke before serving it by pulling apart the leaves and scraping off the choke with a spoon or small knife. This can be done before or after the artichoke is cooked. I would guess that it’s easier to remove the choke from a cooked artichoke rather than a raw one, but I can’t really say since I’ve never bothered to remove the choke before eating the artichoke; the choke just doesn’t upset me to look at while I’m eating. That being said, Mark came home just as I was getting to the choke. He took one look at it and said, “What are you eating and why is it hairy?” Artichokes are wasted on Mark.
Scrape off the choke to reveal the best part of the artichoke — the heart. Use the heart to mop up any remaining sauce you have. Trust me, you don’t want to leave any sauce behind.
Artichokes are pretty filling, especially if you dip them in butter and mayonnaise, so I can easily make a whole meal out of an artichoke.
butter and mayonnaise: $.25 (which is obviously a guess)
1 lemon: $.50
Grand total: $1.74
Artichokes are sort of a primal food to eat because of the prickly tipped leaves, the scraping-the-meaty-part-off-with-your-teeth, and the hairy encounter with the choke. Suffice it to say, artichokes are not a first date kind of food. Actually, you probably wouldn’t want to serve them at a dinner party unless you’re pretty darn comfortable with your guests. As Kiki knew all those years ago, artichokes are best enjoyed only with good friends.
My mom just emailed me to say that she tried steaming artichokes over the weekend by putting them in a colander over a saucepan of water and covering it all with a lid. The artichokes just got dried out and were basically inedible. Then she tried to finish cooking them in the microwave and they got even more dried out. So, moral of this story: if you don’t have a proper artichoke steamer, then just boil the artichokes. Boiling is an excellent way to cook them. Thanks for your tips, Mom!