31 Days of Vegetables

Artichokes: The Best Ways to Pick Them, Cook Them, and Eat Them

updated Jul 28, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Artichokes are one of those vegetables that, no matter how they appear on a plate, feel a little special. Perhaps it’s because they take a little more time and attention to prepare and eat. Perhaps it’s the (mild) element of danger that comes from having to carefully cut away the furry center to get to the really good part. But eating an artichoke — especially whole — feels a little bit ceremonious, which can be just as fun on a weeknight as it is at a dinner party, given how simple they can be to make. Here’s everything you need to know to start enjoying this fun, fancy vegetable.

What Is an Artichoke?

An artichoke is actually the bud of a type of giant thistle — and when the buds bloom, they’re actually quite beautiful. The outer layer and tops of the leaves are generally inedible, as are (in full-sized artichokes) the furry innermost part, called the choke. But the bottoms of the leaves and the tender interior of the artichoke, called the heart, are tender and delicious when steamed or grilled, with a meaty texture and a taste that often leaves a lingering sweetness after.

The Artichoke Top 5

Five links for anyone who loves an artichoke.

  1. Looking for ideas? Here are five great ways to eat artichokes.
  2. Got a recipe that just calls for the raw hearts? Here’s how to get there.
  3. Artichokes make other food taste sweet! Here’s why.
  4. History lesson: Artichokes were big business in the 19th century. Then the mafia got involved.
  5. And here’s a

    printable adult coloring page for artichoke-lovers

How to Choose the Best Artichokes

According to Vegetable Butcher Cara Mangini, artichokes are at their peak in the spring and fall. You want to find artichokes that feel heavy for their size, and look for tightly closed leaves that are firm enough to still snap off at the base (as opposed to bending). But the real trick is to rub the leaves: If they squeak, it’s an extra-fresh artichoke.

What Are the Health Benefits of Artichokes?

Artichokes are great sources of fiber. A medium-sized artichoke, when boiled, is about four ounces and 63 calories. It has ten grams of fiber, 14% of your daily vitamin C, and 12% of your magnesium. It’s also high in folate.

The Best Ways to Cook Artichokes

While the classic method is to steam or boil them and then serve with a side of melted butter or aioli sauce, we actually prefer to split them in half and grill them! It doesn’t honestly take that much more time, and it gives them a delicious smoky charred flavor.

If you’ve got can (or bag) of artichoke hearts, make a spinach-artichoke dip!

How to Eat an Artichoke

Getting a whole steamed artichoke plunked down in front of you can be an intimidating experience for a first-timer. It may have one of the least food-like appearances of any edible fruit or vegetable outside of a dried coconut. And yet, actually eating it is not terribly difficult! There are four basic steps, and if you follow them you can’t go wrong.

  1. Peel off an outer leaf, dip the bottom in a sauce (melted butter or aioli are common), and then scrape off the flesh from the bottom of the leaf with your teeth.
  2. Discard the leaf, and keep going like this, working your way from the biggest, sturdiest leaves, down to the softer smaller leaves toward the center. The very outer leaves might not have much on them, but as the leaves get more and more tender you’ll be able to eat more and more from the bottom, until you can even bite through the leaf and just eat the entire bottom of it.
  3. When you get to the center, you’ll find a small cap of translucent leaves covering the choke — the hairy-looking center that is inedible. Carefully scrape this off with the edge of a butter knife or spoon.
  4. Now you’ve reached the heart! This part is a delicacy. Simply dip it in sauce or cut it up and eat it straight.

As you can see, there’s a lot to discard, so it can be handy to have a big bowl or plate in the center for people to put leaves and the choke onto.

When Are Artichokes in Season?

Artichokes are typically available year-round in most American grocery stores, but as a spring veggie, they’re most in season between March and May, with another short season in October.

No Fresh Artichokes? What to Substitute.

There’s nothing like a fresh, whole steamed artichoke, and no other vegetable can imitate it. But if you’re looking at a recipe that calls for artichoke hearts, definitely get the frozen or canned kind! It’s an awful lot of work to boil and trim a bulk of artichokes just for the hearts, and not likely to be worth it.

The Best Ways to Use Up Leftover Artichokes

As you may be able to tell from the “How to Eat an Artichoke” section above, whole artichokes can create a lot of waste. But fret not! The leaves and extra stems can be added to other veggie scraps to make a delicious vegetable stock. If you’ve accidentally cooked too many artichokes, they’ll keep just fine wrapped in plastic in the fridge, and make a great lunch or next-day snack.

Excess canned or frozen artichoke hearts can always be stored back in the fridge or freezer and used in another recipe!

Our Top 10 Artichoke Recipes

What’s your favorite recipe or use for artichokes? Any favorite way to cook it?

31 Days of Vegetables: How to fall in love with vegetables in 31 days. How many of these splendid veg have you eaten this month? Take a look at the whole list and take our July challenge to eat every single one!