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On Eating Artichokes (And Why You Should Know How to Eat One Before Serving Them to Your Family) August 8, 2013

I admit it: I love Martha Stewart.  Years ago, my mother gave me a copy of “Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook: The Essential Guide to Caring for Everything in Your Home” and I haven’t looked back since.  I devoured the volume, reading it cover-to-cover as I constructed a well-conceived “chore list” which, if followed, would leave my home looking as nice as Martha’s or (dare I even consider it?) my mother’s.

Several years later, my mother made a gift of “Martha Stewart’s Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook” and I was equally delighted.  It wasn’t long before I was cooking like a pro and officially “worshipping” at the altar of Martha Stewart.  The result was that when I walked into the book store and saw a table filled with copies of “Martha’s American Food: A Celebration of Our Nation’s Most Treasured Dishes, from Coast to Coast”, I was immediately enamored.  I reverently picked up a copy and began to leaf through the pages, salivating over dishes like “Grilled Chicken with Spicy Peach Glaze”, “Grilled Bacon-Wrapped White Fish”, and “Grilled Artichokes with Lemon-Oregano Mayonnaise”.

Quickly glancing at the sign above the table, I noted (much to my delight) that the volume was being offered at a special price when purchased in conjunction with a second book of my own choosing.  This seemed the perfect excuse to pick up a copy of “The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs” – a volume which I had been eyeing for over a year.  I left the book store with both volumes securely in my possession and set out for the grocery store to purchase the ingredients for the “Grilled Artichokes with Lemon-Oregano Mayonnaise.”

Of course, the one thing that I did not consider when selecting this recipe was that neither I nor anyone in my immediate family had ever eaten an artichoke.  It wasn’t that green vegetables were rare at our table (I consumed my fair share of peas, green beans, and… ick… broccoli) just that artichokes had never been on the menu.  I carefully followed all of the directions, whisking together the delicious lemon-oregano mayonnaise, then proceeded to the baffling armored vegetable which would serve as our main course.

Removing the outer leaves (even with a pair of razor sharp shears) proved to be a challenge and I confess to being a bit confused when each layer of foliage revealed yet another.  It was as if I were trying to unwrap one of my father’s Christmas gifts: peeling off one layer of paper and opening the box just to find yet another wrapped box nestled inside.  Finally, after paring one artichoke down to the point where there was nearly nothing left, I realized that it was only the visible leaves which needed to be removed.  (This fortunate realization prevented the other artichokes from suffering a sad fate as kitchen refuse and my family from the equally-tragic fate of going without dinner!)

Next, I sliced each artichoke in half, coming face to face with yet another obstacle: the inside of each vegetable was filled with fuzzy “baby leaves”.  In fact, so much of what I presumed to be “the heart” was devoted to these that I found myself wondering how much of the vegetable was actually edible to begin with!  Were any of us really hungry enough to warrant the laborious disassembly of such a cleverly designed plant?

My project, however, was now in full-force and there was no turning back.  Taking a spoon to the fluffy filling, I quickly scooped out the inedible portion, then popped the prepared artichokes onto the grill.  In a matter of minutes, they were ready to be displayed upon a bed of fresh prosciutto.  I served up the meal and watched in delight as my family took knife and fork to it… or at least tried to.

“I don’t think this is right,” my sister observed, after a moment.

I watched as she chewed the still-tough leaves like a bit of gristle.

“Artichokes are supposed to be easier to eat than this.”

My mother agreed and my fiancé shrugged.

“We should Google “How to eat an artichoke”,” someone suggested.

It was such a brilliant idea that I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of it myself.  My mother quickly grabbed her iPad and typed in the search parameters.

What we found was this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mL4RaoSaHu4, a brief and insightful video which explained that we were doing it all wrong.  As it turns out, the armored leaves aren’t edible at all (though according to the medical site that my mother found after we watched the video, the only real danger to anyone who eats the foliage is constipation).  Instead, it is the soft flesh at the base of the leaves which is so deeply prized.  And dipped into a lemon-oregano mayonnaise, it’s even better!  The meal was fabulous and ended with a valuable reminder to look before you eat; using Google isn’t nearly as difficult as eating artichoke leaves!


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