Artichokes are beautiful—and this edible member of the thistle family is thought to be one of the oldest vegetables known to man. It amazes me to think of some Roman cook way back when getting past this plant’s natural defenses and figuring out how to cook and eat the darn things. And we’re still figuring it out—here we are a couple of thousand years later and at the market, my checkout clerk invariably gets her finger pricked by the leaves—yelps—looks at her stuck finger and shakes her head, annoyed by this strange workplace hazard. I feel badly for a minute, but I get over it quickly and happily take my little prizes home.
As a side dish to a meat or fish entree, artichokes are so substantial, that I usually don’t serve anything else, except maybe a light salad. And I have been known to make a meal of them—with a dipping sauce; they are satisfying all on their own. How to cook them? Sometimes I simmer them—in a big pot with about 2 inches of water, a teaspoon of olive oil and a splash of chicken stock. Or in the summer when I’m feeding a crowd, I grill them, which is the subject of today’s post, less a recipe than a technique. If you haven’t made them before, this sounds complicated—but it really isn’t—there are a lot of short little steps, but nothing hard—and well worth learning.
Grilled Artichokes with Soy Mayonnaise
4 small to medium size globe artichokes (see note)
Juice of one lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup mayonnaise
2 to 4 tablespoons soy sauce
Set a large pot of water, half full, on the stove and bring it to a boil while you prepare the artichokes.
Pour the lemon juice into a small plate and keep it nearby. The juice will be used to keep the artichokes from discoloring—which they do if you don’t work fairly quickly. I recommend working on one a time, so they don’t sit too long.
Using a serrated knife cut off the top inch or two of the artichoke, dip the top in the lemon juice. Cut about an inch off the bottom stem, and dip the stem end in the juice. Then, take kitchen shears and snip off the prickly tips of each of the remaining leaves. Cut the artichokes in half vertically and dip the cut side into the lemon juice.
Add a tablespoon of salt to the water (which should now be boiling) and put the artichokes in the water where they will parboil until tender. After about 10 minutes of gentle boiling, use a fork and test the stem ends for tenderness. When the fork goes in easily and a leaf can be gently pulled off, remove them from the boiling water, and put them immediately into a bowl of cold water, add a cup of ice cubes and let them cool down quickly (this will keep them a nice color.)
When they’ve cooled, lay out a few paper towels and put the artichokes cut side down on the towels to drain. Using a spoon, scoop out the thistle at the top of the stem, being sure to remove all of it. Then, put the halves on a tray, brush them with olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper and they are ready to grill.
Heat the grill to medium and cook the artichokes for about 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until they are just beginning to brown. Stir together the mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Taste and add more soy sauce to your taste. When the artichokes are done, remove them to a serving platter and serve with the soy mayonnaise for dipping.
Note: The size of the artichokes is important when you choose to grill them. Big artichokes tend to need a lot more cooking time for their leaves to get tender and this can make their hearts very soft and fall apart on the grill. So I have found that small to medium globe artichokes work much, much better. If you only have lovely big ones, you’re better off simmering them as I mention above.