Artichokes are among the most versatile and oldest vegetable, dates back to the time of the Greek philosopher and naturalist, Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.), who wrote of them being grown in Italy and Sicily.
Tiny artichokes simmered in white wine, rosemary, thyme, and other aromatics, a la Provençale; artichoke slices bathed in garlicky lemon oil and grill-seared, Barcelona style; tender hearts stewed with lamb and sweet spices in a Maroccan tagine; artichokes plumped with dill-scented rice, Turkish fashion; wedges braised with leeks and mint, a la grecque; whole flattened miniatures, their flower-like forms fried leafy brown and dusted with coarse salt, alla giudia (Italian Jewish style). Then there are raw artichokes: bittersweet crescent cuts in the vinaigrette with croutons, walnuts, tomatoes, mint, and parsley, in fresh California style. The dried artichoke tea trà Atiso and stew artichoke with pig trotter bông atiso hầm giò heo in the mountainous South-Central Vietnamese city of Đà Lạt, the capital of Lâm Đồng Province are unique and delicious.
The artichoke was likely introduced by the French colonialists to Việt Nam and planted in many places, however, only the temperate climate of the hill station town of Đà Lạt, 300 km north of Sài Gòn is suitable for the growth and development of this precious plant.
Although some locals prepare the artichokes in soup or braised dishes they’re mainly dried and processed into a refreshing, deep flavored tea. Grassy, nutty, and naturally sweet it’s a fabulous alternative to other herbal teas.
History and legends
Artichokes and cardoons—have been on the human table since at least the days of ancient Greece and Rome. Ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. In Ancient Greece, the artichoke was attributed to being effective in securing the birth of boys. Since the artichoke was considered an aphrodisiac and was thought to enhance sexual power, eating an artichoke was reserved only for men in Europe 16th century.
According to Greek myth, the artichoke owes its existence to the God Zeus who—on a visit to his brother Poseidon—spotted a gorgeous girl, Cynara, bathing on the beach. She did not seem frightened by the presence of a god, and Zeus fell instantly in love and seized the opportunity to seduce her. He was so pleased with the girl, whose name was Cynara, that he decided to make her a goddess so that she could be nearer to his home on Olympia. Cynara, however, soon missed her mother and grew homesick. She snuck back to the world of mortals for a brief visit. After she returned, Zeus discovered this un-goddess-like behavior. Enraged, he tossed Cynara from Olympus and transformed her into the plant we know as the artichoke.
Catherine de Medici (Italian-born French queen, regent, and mother of three kings of France), is said to have brought artichokes to France in the 16th century when she arrived from Florence at the age of fourteen to marry the Duke of Orléans, second son of the king of France, the future Henry II. She apparently ate a lot of them too, which—given the artichoke’s over-sexed reputation. From France, artichokes spread to Holland and England, America, and Southeast Asia, namely, Việt Nam.
Buy and Store
Choose firm, heavy artichokes with dark green leaves. Some varieties have leaves that are more tightly packed; thorned varieties tend to be a bit looser. A little bit of brown coloring at the tips isn’t a deal-breaker, but do avoid shriveled looking artichokes with very loose or split leaves.
To store fresh artichokes, cut a small slice off the stem, wrap it in a wet paper towel, and store the artichokes in an airtight plastic bag for up to 5 days. Artichokes remain fairly constant in appearance for weeks, but flavor and tone are adversely affected from the moment they are cut from the stalk. For maximum taste and tenderness, cook them as soon as possible; do not stock up.
Rap artichoke forcefully against the work surface to open up “petals.” Soak in lukewarm water while you prepare other ingredients, then rinse well. (Most artichokes are sprayed with pesticides throughout the growing cycle.)
The stem is a continuation of the artichoke bottom (crown or fond in French) and can be equally choice – so do not remove it automatically. To check, trim until you reach the stem’s pale care: taste. If very bitter, remove (see below). If not, peel and keep intact or slice for sautés, soup, or stuffing.
To remove the stem: Lay the artichoke on its side and hold it with one hand. With the heel of the other hand, forcefully press down on the stem to break it off. Some stems resist be must be cut.
To prepare artichokes to serve whole: bend down and snap off dark bracts, stopping when reaching a paler green layer. With a stainless steel knife, slice across cone tip where it turns light. With scissors, cut off the prickly tip of each exposed bract. Cook at this point or clean further, as follows.
To remove choke: Rap trimmed artichoke top hard against the work surface to open it wide, then open further with fingers. With a melon ball cutter or spoon, scoop out the choke and prickly parts. Remove any discolored lower leaves. Use kitchen shears to trim tough tips off remaining outer leaves, if desired.
About discoloration: Rub all cut surfaces with a lemon half to keep them from turning dark. Some cooks like to soak the trimmed artichoke in lemon water for an hour or so before cooking to improve taste and tenderness. When water is unusually alkaline (hard), artichokes, like litmus paper, will change color. But they have no harmful effects. However, water-soluble vitamins are lost, so it is best to add some acid to all cooking water, both for color and vitamin retention.