If artichokes are one of those vegetables you see at the store, but never know what to do with, now's the time to try them out. They're one of the earliest vegetables to arrive in spring, with their season peaking March to May. And while fresh, spiky artichokes may look intimidating; our handy tips below will help demystify this delicately tangy, slightly sweet vegetable.

Artichokes are the flower buds of a thistle with a prickly core known as the "choke". (If left alone, the choke would bloom into tiny deep violet-blue flowers!) There are over 50 varieties of globe artichokes; the larger ones are best for stuffing or steaming and the smaller ones are better for marinating, sautéing, frying or roasting. Globe artichokes are unrelated to Chinese, Japanese or Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes).

Here's all you need to know to get cooking with artichokes:

Buying and storing: Select deep-green coloured, tightly-closed buds that are nice and heavy for their size. Avoid ones that look dry or have split, browning leaves. Store artichokes unwashed, in a plastic bag in the fridge up to 4 days and clean just before cooking.

Trimming: Wash artichokes under running water or by plunging them into a water bath. Snap off any tough outer leaves near the stem and use scissors to cut off their prickly tips. Cut around the closed top of the bud, or "crown", to open up the artichoke. Once you've cut the leaves they oxidize quickly, just like avocados, so rub them with lemon juice or submerge them in cold water mixed with plenty of lemon juice or a dissolved vitamin C tablet.

Removing the choke: If you're cooking the artichoke whole, it's easiest to dig the choke out with a spoon after it's cooked. If you're slicing the artichoke before cooking, remove it then.

Canned artichokes: These are a delicious year-round alternative that eliminates the prep-work. Just make sure that after draining, you give each heart a little squeeze with your fingers to release any liquid inside and keep your dish from turning out too watery--you'll be surprised at how much comes out.

And note, artichokes contain an acid called cynarine which makes the next bite you eat after taste sweet. Keep that in mind when you're thinking of pairing them with your best wine.

Now that you know all about artichokes, use them up in any of the tested-till-perfect recipes:

Artichoke and Sun-Dried Tomato Lasagna
Artichoke Chicken Flatbread
Artichoke Green Olive Dip
Artichoke Pesto Linguine
Sun-Dried Tomato and Artichoke Dip
Barbecued Tuna Pizzas
Steamed Artichokes with Aioli
Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad

Tags: spring, spring sides


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