If you've never eaten one before, artichokes may look more like a strange green pinecone to be used as table decoration instead of an edible plant. Commonly served in a creamy dip with spinach, artichokes rarely get to shine on their own in cuisine unless you are familiar with their preparation and flavor.
These green globes are actually a variety of thistle cultivated as food and eaten in bud form before it blooms into a flower. Once the flower blooms, the artichoke becomes tough and inedible. Artichokes grow on a long-stemmed plant and are cut just under the large bud at the top of the stalk when harvested. The bud grows large green-and-silvery leaves which form the edible portion of the plant. Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean region but are also now a high-production crop in California. They are usually a spring crop, but mild weather in California also cultivates a fall crop of artichokes, as well.
Artichokes themselves are low in calories and high in fiber. One will also give you a nutrient boost of magnesium, vitamin C, folate and iron. However, your cooking and serving method will determine the final nutritional value for these curious plants.
Preparing artichokes doesn't have to be daunting. Start by washing the artichoke and cut the pointy tips off of the leaves of the bud. The easiest preparation methods include steaming or boiling, then pulling off the leaves to eat. Simply Recipes provides a great description of preparation, including pictures.
If you are feeling a bit more culinarily inclined, try Smitten Kitchen's Braised Artichokes, or if you prefer to stick with what you know, try Greatist's Healthy Lemon Artichoke Dip as an alternative to traditional calorie-heavy spinach artichoke dip. Also, take a look at our 5 Surprisingly Delicious Ways to Add in Artichoke for more healthy ideas!
Don't let artichokes' prickly, strange exterior hold you back from trying a healthy new food!