Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Artichoke Project

My father had brought 4 artichokes from his trip to Ooty, a hill station located in the Nilgiri hills bordering Tamilnadu and it's neighbouring state, Kerala. (Nilgiri literally translates to blue mountain).

Now, I don't believe the artichoke is a native vegetable of India - probably brought in by the Brits along with carrots, potatoes, beans, and peas. And we rarely find artichokes in the Chennai vegetable markets. I've only seen artichokes in pictures and once tasted it in school when a girl had brought it for lunch.

My father suggested making artichoke soup. Should be fairly simple right? Just boil it for about 25-45 minutes with some salt, pepper and herbs, and it should be ready!

Well yes, cooking it is fairly simple (water boils on it's own), but preparing the artichokes for cooking is not easy. They are complex vegetables, just like some people. They have many layers, and a really fuzzy and often thorny inner layer. They've got thistles on their outermost petals. Quite the hardy vegetable, the artichoke.

-- artichoke flower
So this is what I set about doing. I did some research on the internet, and one website proved particularly useful in providing tips for preparing them:
And the recipe for the soup came partly from another website (minus the chicken broth though because my mom is vegetarian), and partly from my own head.
1. I first prepared a bowl of water with squeezed lemon (vinegar is a good alternative) because artichokes oxidise very easily on contact with air. Once you start cutting them, they immediately start to go brown!

2. So I first cut the stalk down to one quarter near the base of the artichoke. And then cut off that too, peeled it's outer layer and dropped it into the water (the stalk is edible too).

3. Then I pulled out some of the hardy outer petals and disposed them.

4. I cut the top 1/3rd of the artichoke with a knife and trimmed the petals with a kitchen scissors (not completely necessary, but it makes for good presentation once it's cooked).

5. Then with the help of the knife, I cleaned out the inside fuzz and thorny petals of the artichoke. Then dropped the whole thing into the water.

6. I prepared 4 artichokes in this manner. Put water to boil along with some herbs (thyme and rosemary is what I used), salt and ground black pepper. Added the artichokes to the boiling water.

7. After they had boiled for nearly 40 minutes (water turns a nice green, clorophyll, very valuable, used this as stock for the soup), I prepared the soup base. Fresh cream (medium fat), with some milk, and a little more salt and ground pepper, and some corn starch (for thickening). Then added the artichokes and stock. Note: I stuck a fork into each artichoke to check if they were properly cooked - you know they are cooked when the fork goes in easily (artichokes turn really soft after boiling).

8. Let it boil for another 5-10 minutes. Artichoke soup is ready!

9. For the presentation - I put each artichoke into the centre of each soup bowl (they stayed whole, thank god, after all that boiling!) and poured the delicious creamy looking soup in.

My parents enjoyed it thoroughly, and so did I. The whole process had taken almost 2 hours, but the end result made up for all the effort. It was so fulfilling to ultimately consume the soup and see the satisfied looks on my parents' faces.

What a fantastic way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

p.s. Here's another useful website in case you want to sauté them -

Artichoke flower image courtesy:
Duke Gardens July 2004 / artichoke flower Matthew Wallenstein 7/7/2004

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