Artichokes are one of my favorite treats. I’ve introduced several people recently to the joys of a whole artichoke served steamed with a dipping sauce for the leaves. The first time I made one for my husband, we shared because he wasn’t sure he would like it. After that, we each had to have our own because it was a race to the finish line for both of us. (The “finish line” for those who have not eaten a whole artichoke before is the heart.) An artichoke makes a great community appetizer. Ideally, dinner guests will sit around the table savoring the individual leaves while enjoying great conversation.

Prepping the artichoke

I usually cut off the stem to within a half inch or so of the base of the artichoke before cooking. This helps the artichoke to sit somewhat upright in the steamer or pot. Most books will also tell you to snip all the sharp points off the leaves. If you are serving this to children, it might not be a bad idea. Otherwise, if you are an adult, I assume that you are capable of not hurting yourself on the pointed leaves and I don’t bother to take the time to snip them all. I just chop a quarter inch off the top which gets rid of the pointy leaves on top and makes it fit in my steamer better.

Cooking the artichoke

All you need to do to serve a whole artichoke is steam it. If you have a steamer big enough, put the artichoke(s) in for about 40-45 minutes. If you don’t have a steamer, put a couple inches of water in a heavy pot and set the artichokes upright. Bring the water to a boil and cover for 45 minutes or so. WATCH CAREFULLY. The first time I tried this, I boiled the pot dry and it caught on fire. Seriously – you have now been warned and I take no further responsibility. Check the pot and add hot water if necessary to keep it from boiling dry. You’ll know that the artichokes are done when the outer leaves pull away easily from the base.

Eating the artichoke

When finished steaming, pull off the 3 or 4 largest toughest leaves from the base and discard. Serve the artichoke on a plate and place a bowl beside it to hold the discarded leaves. Take a leaf, dip it in the preferred sauce,  and then gently scrape the leaf  with your teeth starting about 1/4 of the way up from the base. There is a little bit of “meat” at the base of the leaf and this is what you are trying to get. Don’t eat the whole leaf. The best part comes when you have gotten to the point that the leaves are almost too small and tender to deal with. You are getting close to the heart of the artichoke. Take a spoon and scrape the small, translucent leaves and fuzzy stuff from the base. This will leave you with the small bowl-shaped heart. Dip it and enjoy!  Friends of mine who don’t want to try this without hands-on guidance the first time are welcome to bring artichokes to my house for a lesson. Payment is two artichokes (one for me and one for Kyle).

Dipping sauces

Mom’s artichoke dip

Melt one stick of butter in bowl, add about 1/4 reduced fat mayonaise (should be the consistency of salad dressing). Sprinkle with garlic powder and whip together.

(Note: For two people, I don’t usually make this much dip – proportions of mayo to butter are about half and half erring on the side of slightly less mayo. It doesn’t have to be exact.)

Curry dip

Melt a big heaping spoonful of butter (I use ‘I Can’t Believe Its Not Butter). Add a slightly smaller spoonful of reduced fat sour cream.  Add a 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of curry powder and a dash of garlic.  Whip together.

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