when I grew up in Syria, my mother would bring home 20 artichokes at a time from the market so she could prepare them to store over the winter.  All of us in the family had to help her by peeling the outer leaves and cleaning the Achoke@ (the fine, silky hairs near the heart of the artichoke).  By the time we finished cleaning five or six of the vegetables, the sharp pointed leaves would have punctured our hands several times, so say nothing of our fingers turning dark purple.  It was not at all embarrassing because most of our classmates in school would have the same punctures and marks on their hands. We couldn=t complain because my mother did not eat artichokes.  All of this preparation and storage was for my father and the children in our family.While we stored as many as we could for winter, during the season we ate artichoke in salads; we ate stuffed artichokes with meat; with herbs; with bread and garlic; with pasta; and on and on. 

One food historian maintains that the artichoke originated in North Africa, probably Tunisia, and from there moved to Syria, where the Crusaders picked it up and spread it through Europe, including Italy.  Other food historians claim that, because artichokes still grow wild in Sicily, moved from Sicily to Naples and throughout Italy, it definitely originated in Italy.  These same historians say that the Crusaders took artichokes to Syria, and not the opposite direction.

Whatever the case may be, they are a very popular vegetable around the Mediterranean, and are used in a different way in each of the countries.   My favorite is the marinated artichoke one finds in restaurants in Rome.  They are cooked, then left to soak in olive oil, lemon and garlic.  They are so tender that one eats every part of the artichoke, stems, leaves, and the choke.  I dream about Roman artichokes.  The Medicis in ancient Italy believed artichokes contained an aphrodisiac, the men would eat them as appetizers before every meal, but they forbade the women from touching them. 

The Roman marinade only works with the baby artichokes found in Rome, but are difficult to find in the United States. Fresh artichokes found here in  supermarkets are the large ones that are difficult to marinate and have leaves that are almost too tough to eat.  In the frozen food sections of local stores you can find frozen baby artichokes.  If you do not intend to eat the large artichokes, put the stem in water, as though they were flowers, and they will keep until you want to cook them.  Before cooking, peel the stem and cut the artichoke in half, horizontally.  Remove the toughest external leaves then boil it in a heavy sauce pan, making sure the water covers the entire artichoke.  Add one-half cup of olive oil to the water, four cloves of garlic, and a whole lemon, sliced, and salt to taste.  Bring the water and mixture to boil, cover it and let is simmer for about 30 minutes.  You can then eat the stem and the edible leaves with your favorite sauce.  Most people use hollandaise sauce in which to dip the leaves.  You can also eat the artichoke heart after removing the choke and the fine, silky hairs.  Another way to serve them is, after boiling, remove the silky hairs, all the leaves and the stem, leaving the bottom, (or the heart) which looks like a small saucer.  I stuff the bottom with fresh chopped herbs, such as oregano, and red and green peppers.  I hope you=ll try artichokes, and stay with them for the first time or two that you cook them.  I=m confident they will become a staple in your diet.


Serves 4

8                    artichokes

1                    lemon, sliced

2                    red bell pepper, chopped

3                    green bell pepper, chopped

4                    cup finely chopped green onions

          1/2    cup chopped fresh oregano

5                    tablespoons fresh thyme

          1/4    cup lemon juice

6                    tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

-Stem the artichokes close to the base. 

-Scoop out the choke and trim the base to form a cup. 

-In a heavy pot, bring  water, lemon slices and salt to a boil.  Drop the artichoke into the boiling water and cook until tender, about 30 minutes.

-Drain, then set aside.

-Mix the peppers with the onions, oregano, thyme, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Toss well.

-Place the artichoke cups on a shallow plate and stuff them with the herb mixture.