Once upon a time, people of the far east declared the artichoke a forbidden vegetable, thought to contain aphrodisiac powers. Greek mythology stated that Zeus, the viril and strong chief of all gods, was responsible for the creation of the artichoke. After Zeus was rejected by a beautiful young woman (can you imagine who was the woman that turned down Zeus?), he turned the woman into a thorny thistle, or artichoke. The last queen of Ancient Egypt, Cleopatra, feasted on artichokes, legumes, grains and fish. Fast forward to the 16th Century, women were not allowed to eat artichokes. This vegetable was considered scandalous, and somehow men only were allowed to partake in aphrodisiac foods. However, members of Italian royalty like Catherine de Medici rebelled and ate them openly, and in large quantities. Henry VIII of England was also fond of them and consumed the vegetable in generous quantities because of their aphrodisiac properties.
Do you notice a pattern here? Throughout history, royalty and rulers of kingdoms had a special relationship with this thorn of the ground, called “Ardi’shoke” in Arabic. Regardless of artichoke folklore, this thistle is undeniably delicious, yet sadly today few people know how to prepare them. The artichoke is a perennial in the thistle group of the sunflower family, and is believed to be a native of the Mediterranean. One medium to large artichoke will yield only about 2 ounces of edible flesh, but part of the fun is taking the artichoke apart. You can dip the zesty leaves in olive oil and vinegar, cucumber yogurt sauce, or even hummus, making for a sensorial eating experience.
Growing up my mother would prepare these special Middle Eastern spiced stuffed artichokes for us during artichoke season in the spring and fall, but now you can find these globes all year round. The buttery hearts in the interior are a perfect compliment to the savory blend of rice, lamb, and allspice cooked in a lemony broth. I personally think Cleopatra, Zeus, Queen Catherine or King Henry would fall in love at first bite with this aromatic and rich dish. There are only a few steps you need to take to transform artichokes into baskets perfect for filling. To see the technique, click on the video below:
Juice of 1 lemon
½ cup rice
1 ½ tbsp melted butter
¾ cup diced lamb (or chickpeas or any kind of meat your prefer)
Salt to taste
1 tsp allspice
Lemon pepper to taste
1 ½ tsp minced garlic ( 1-2 cloves)
2 cups chicken broth (or use veggie broth)
To prepare the artichokes, cut off the stem, and cut off about one inch of the pointy tip of each artichoke. Using kitchen shears, cut off the thorny tips of each leaf. Now the artichoke is safer to core. Using a melon baller or a spoon, carve out the fibrous fuzzy choke in the middle, to reveal the heart below. Add the juice of half a lemon to a bowl of water, and place the cored artichokes in that bowl before you prepare the stuffing. This prevents the artichokes from browning. In another bowl, combine the rice, lamb, butter, garlic, and salt and lemon pepper to taste. Divide into 4 parts, and stuff each artichoke with a quarter of the rice and lamb mixture. In a large pot, pour in the broth, season with a dash of salt, and add the juice of another half a lemon. Place the artichokes in the broth, then fill with enough water to reach the height of 75% of the artichokes. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes (might need an hour if the artichokes are extra large). To serve, sprinkle the top of each artichoke with the toasted pine nuts.