The artichoke has been the subject of mythological legend and medicine for millennia. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered it to be a delicacy. During the 16th century in Europe, when it achieved high gourmet status, it was said to be denied to women and reserved only for men due to its aphrodisiac powers. Thanks to early European immigrants, the artichoke made its way to North America, the best ones grown in California’s lush central coast.
Today, the artichoke’s reputation has been somewhat humbled due to its prickly thistle formation, although it has gained new and mightier ground as a nutritional multi-tasker. Known for being a major antioxidant, it is rich in vitamins A and C, fiber, folate, magnesium and potassium, among other vitamins and minerals. Studies indicate that it can assist with cholesterol reduction, IBS, and healthy liver function, not to mention it is low in calories and fat.
Although one is able to buy fresh artichokes in the store all year round, the best seasons for artichokes are spring, summer and fall. For those individuals who aren’t able to buy good artichokes in the winter months, I recommend making extra soup in the fall to freeze and enjoy over the winter months.
Every rose has its thorn (literally) and there is no easy way of making fresh artichoke soup—it is somewhat labor intensive, requiring one to pluck out all of its leaves to get to the heart, which is the main ingredient of the soup. Fortunately, from there on out it is smoother sailing.
**One can use frozen or canned artichokes. Although it is not as fresh – it is much less labor intensive and quicker to prepare.
Things you will need:
- Knife and cutting board
- Chopper (optional for onions and garlic – can also use good knife)
- Microplane zester/grater
- a few bowls for ingredients
- 3 large artichokes, 6 smaller artichokes (fresh).
- 2 medium organic potatoes ( I use russet or golden potatoes)
- 1 large onion
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 2 lemons
- Bowl of Water
- 32 oz. of broth (chicken or vegetable)
- Italian Parsley for Garnishing
- Freshly shaven/grated cheese such as Asiago or Parmesan Cheese
- Wash and cut of tip of the artichoke, removing the prickles.
- Pluck all the leaves from the artichoke. Place the artichoke leaves into a side bowl.
- When you get to the heart submerge the heart, I usually cut them into quarters then submerge them in a bowl of water with a squeeze or two of lemon juice – this will prevent discoloration of the artichoke due to oxidization.
- Side Note — I usually take all the artichoke leaves and steam and eat them separately. No need to waste a perfectly good artichoke. I also use the water of the steamed artichoke as part of the broth. (if using canned or frozen artichokes, skip steps 1 -4)
- Chop up onion and garlic cloves.
- Saute the onion and garlic with salt and pepper until they are a translucent golden color. (Salt and pepper should be added according to ones taste)
- Peel and cut the potatoes into cubes. (For those of you who don’t want starch in your soup, you can omit the potato. I find that it helps to thicken the soup. It will be much more watery without it.)
- ** Optional step – if you like the taste of roasted vegetables, I would recommend putting the artichoke hearts (drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper) in the oven, set at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
- Add the artichoke hearts and potatoes to the onion and garlic. Give it a good stir or two to blend together the ingredients and flavor.
- Add the broth
- Cook at a medium heat until the artichokes hearts and potatoes are soft (not mushy). Should not be longer than 25 minutes.
- Use the microplane to zest the lemons, add to the soup.
- Ladle the soup’s ingredients into the blender. ( I usually ration in extra broth later, if it is too thick.)
- Blend the soup until smooth.
- Add extra lemon juice from the zested lemons ( to liking).
- Salt and pepper to liking.
- If it has cooled down, simply reheat and serve.
A bowl of artichoke soup is like eating a regular artichoke. I usually enjoy my artichokes with a simple olive oil and lemon juice sauce. However, one might like it with some shavings of asiago or parmesan cheese, topped with some fresh herbs.
Although there is no dedicated accompaniment – as is a grilled cheese for tomato soup – having a nice chunk of crusty rustic bread or even sourdough baguette for dipping is all it takes to enhance the eating experience. A spoonful of olive tapenade to go along with the bread, is also might tasty.
**Vegans omit the cheese.
The artichoke is a relatively lighter soup, which makes it a great first course for lunch or dinner. Although there is no dedicated accompaniment – as is a grilled cheese for tomato soup – having a nice chunk of crusty rustic bread or even sourdough baguette for dipping is all it takes to enhance the eating experience.
“My son is a food racist.” Making random mom chit chat at the park, a woman was talking about her son’s eating habits. Of course, I chuckled at her comment. Detached, if not naive, I was unfamiliar with her plight to nourish her son with a well-balanced diet, if not, one day soon, my own. Kiko, who at the time was hardly a year old, ate relatively well. He would occasionally throw his food to the ground, which I perceived to be a mischievous infant antic rather than an opinionated assertion of a food critic.
As mothers, we do our best to set sail in the right direction with our young. Some of us choose to map things out and some flow with the current. Regardless of the approach, the intention is to navigate towards in a positive, productive and life-enhancing direction in terms of sleeping and eating habits, human interaction, verbal communication, mental stimulation and socialization…all the while championing the individual personality. We come up against wave after wave, some bigger than others, learning to brace ourselves in the squally sea of child-rearing. Navigation can sometimes get a little complicated, despite how well the waters have been charted and researched by our foremothers.
As a baby, Kiko was a healthy eater. I have always made my children’s food. One of my “sailing rules” is that I don’t feed them anything I wouldn’t want to eat myself. Sadly, that is most of what comes in jars on the baby food shelves. I experimented with an array of foods and was proud of the simple and kid-friendly concoctions I created. For a while he appreciated and ate most of what I prepared. Slowly he started to become a pickier eater, always leaving his peas behind, or eating around the tomatoes in the spaghetti sauce, avoiding the mushrooms in his scrambled eggs. Unconcerned, I overlooked and accepted it as normal childhood eating behavior. But suddenly he gave way to refusing specific food outright. He established definite likes and dislikes, but in peculiar way, which is reminiscent of Meg Ryan’s character in When Harry Met Sally. He can be described as a meat and potatoes kid, just make sure to hold the potatoes. It doesn’t matter if the potatoes are fried, mashed or baked, he wants nothing to do with them, ever. He loves spaghetti and meatballs, but without a trace of sauce and the pasta has to be on the side. Not only did it have to be on the side, but only a certain kind of pasta. He usually passes on all variations of noodles and prefers shells or elbows. He lives for his grilled cheese sandwiches, but only with a certain kind of yellow cheese and preferably made on the processed-white hamburger bun. He’ll never turn down a chicken or cheese quesadilla, but if he finds a smidgen of avocado, tomato, or bean of any sort he will shove his plate away in disgust.
Recalling the prophetic moment years earlier with the mother in the park, it dawned on me that my son, too, had become a food racist. Not only was he biased towards the kind of food he ate, he heavily discriminated against color, specifically green. Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, green beans or salad of any sort did not have a fighting chance.
As irony would have it, green was his favorite color. Almost everything he self-selected and owned was green: his crocs; his froggy rain boots that he adamantly wore all summer through the sweltering heat, hiking up mountains or playing in the sand; his hat, sunglasses, bathing suits, shirts, and blanket. He surrounded himself with the color green but, like the main character of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs & Ham, Kiko did not want to eat green things “here or there or anywhere”.
In our family we live to eat, but Kiko clearly just eats to survive.
It is said that we must pick our battles. Never has this mantra resonated so loudly as when I became a mother. Many things I vowed to never let happen occur frequently without the bat of an eye. Many concessions have been made in the name of what a dear friend refers to as CBA- cost benefit analysis. It is a simple financial term that incidentally works well with managing children. If the costs don’t outweigh the benefits, let it go. It’s best to preserve the peace and one’s own sense of sanity. In this case I couldn’t justify the costs. Thus, my personal war on food racism ensued.
I called upon reinforcements. It quickly became very clear from other blogs and cookbooks that this was not a battle I fought alone, as I found copious experimentations and recipes for struggles like mine. It was a war laced with pure deceit. Regressing to the baby food making days, I headed back to the food processor where I would steam and puree just about every vegetable known to man, stealthily augmenting Kiko’s severely downsized meal selection. Initially, he detected nothing. But soon my little Sherlock Holmes was on to me. The older he got, the more thwarted were my efforts were with his highly discerning palate.
There was one light at the end of the tunnel. Albeit infrequent, Kiko would occasionally try things he saw us eating. At such moments, he would silently observe us savoring something and, his curiosity getting the better of him, would sheepishly ask if he could try it too. So it was not entirely shocking when were plucking away at an artichoke one night, that the small, sheepish voice announced it wanted in. Most times, he would spit whatever it was out, reaching for the water to rid himself of the poison that he almost ingested. In this case, it took him a few tries to figure out how to eat it, and, once he finally did, he proudly announced “yum, I like it!” and continued to finish the entire artichoke. Ah, the taste of victory. And to think, it tasted of artichokes.
It was with my endeavors of soup making that I experienced another breakthrough. Kiko would never eat soup – ever. Try as I might to make something that would appeal to him, he wouldn’t touch it. Last spring when I was fulfilling orders of my artichoke soup, I made enough to spare and did my best to entice him to have a small spoonful. Much to my delight and to his, he ate it and the rest of the bowl.
On a few occasions since then he has asked, unsolicited, when I would make him the artichoke soup again. “It’s my favorite soup”. I didn’t have the heart to remind him it was the only soup he ate. Regardless, mission accomplished. There was a light at the end of the tunnel with a green hue. Thus, it is with joy and triumph that I dedicate my Hearty Choke soup to Kiko, my “king” – whose throne forever rests soundly on my heart.