Monday, April 27, 2009

The Power of the Artichoke!

Spring is the time for liver cleansing, and what better vegetable than the artichoke to assist you!

 Excerpted from

Since ancient times, the artichoke has been used for liver and gallbladder conditions, 'cleaning' the blood, as well as the bladder. The Egyptians highly prized it as a health and diet food and Plinius described it as the 'food for the rich' because of the health problems contributed to a 'rich' life style - excessive in rich foods, fats and wine that led to liver illnesses (such as cirrhosis), gout and a general run down condition.

Today we know that the artichoke is very high in fibre, potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus and other trace elements important for a balanced system. It is known to positively help poor liver function (thus helping to lower the blood cholesterol), arteriosclerosis, gout, supports the treatment of hepatitis and improves the gall secretions. It can slightly lower the blood sugar, improve the appetite and digestion, is diuretic and may help some migraine conditions (most especially those caused by toxins in the blood). As it helps the body rid itself of excess water and moves toxins it also has the added side effect of an improved skin luminosity. 

In a poor diet of excessive drinking (most especially strong alcoholic drinks), high red meat and fat consumption, the artichoke can boost the liver's ability to regenerate its cells. Obviously, nothing can help advanced cirrhosis of the liver. Most liver problems by the way, are self-inflicted.

The liver's main function is the metabolic transformation of nutrients from the food we eat. It also detoxifies certain poisons. An overstressed liver obviously cannot function properly, which among other things results in poor assimilation of nutrients and increased toxins in the blood. This will eventually adversely affect the entire body causing numerous ailments that are often only symptomatically treated. What is amazing are the numbers of people who abuse their livers and hence their bodies, think they eat well, yet are suffering from a form of malnutrition - a word one associates with poverty and third world countries.

What to do? Take an honest appraisal of your diet, recognize unhealthy habits and develop a better understanding of the importance of a properly functioning liver. After serious drinking and weeks of fat-rich foods, do something good for your liver. Give it a break and help it to recuperate. 

When artichokes are  in season, go on a short term Artichoke 'Cure' (treatment, diet)! Discover new recipes and eat them as a main meal for several days. Repeat for as long as they are in season, varying the menu with small amounts of meat and other vegetables. Artichokes only have about 25 calories. Eat fish and poultry 3 times a week and cut out red meat for while. Avoid all animal fats during this time, use olive oil instead and avoid all strong alcohol. A few glasses of red wine a day helps the red blood cell production as well, however abstain from even wine for the several days to a week before adding a small glass with your meal. Another positive side to artichokes and improved liver function is that weight loss is easier as the metabolic assimilation of food is more efficient. 

Infusion: use the leaves you normally throw away. You will need about 12-15 leaves per half litre (approx. 2 cups) of boiling water. Pour over the chopped leaves and allow to brew for 5 minutes. Strain and drink 2 cups during the day. You may sweeten with honey if you like. However, an easier method is to purchase an excellent extract by the W. Schoenenberger, Salus or A. Vogel companies from the health food shop).

Versatile: once trimmed, the versatile Spanish or Italian artichoke (remember you can eat the whole choke) can be cooked whole, sliced lengthways, halved, quartered or chopped, pre-cooked in a little water or broth and used in rice dishes, potato dishes, salads or as a topping for pizzas. They can be fried, steamed, boiled, stuffed, chopped with other ingredients for a filling for tomatoes, served with sauces. Chop the hearts very fine and they can be used in vinaigrette, mayonnaise, mixed with cooked egg or grated cheese or used in omelettes.  Then there's quiche, pasta and risotto dishes - you are only limited by your imagination!

How to Cook and Eat an Artichoke

How to Cook and Eat an Artichoke

I can imagine, that if you didn't grow up eating artichokes and if you were encountering them for the first time, they might seem a little intimidating. How one cooks and eats an artichoke is not obvious from its appearance. If you've always wondered how to cook and eat the darn things, here are the steps:

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How to Cook and Eat an Artichoke


How to Cook an Artichoke

1. If the artichokes have little thorns on the end of the leaves, take a kitchen scissors and cut of the thorned tips of all of the leaves. This step is mostly for aesthetics as the thorns soften with cooking and pose no threat to the person eating the artichoke.

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2. Slice about 3/4 inch to an inch off the tip of the artichoke.

3. Pull off any smaller leaves towards the base and on the stem.

4. Cut excess stem, leaving up to an inch on the artichoke. The stems tend to be more bitter than the rest of the artichoke, but some people like to eat them. Alternatively you can cut off the stems and peel the outside layers which is more fibrous and bitter and cook the stems along with the artichokes.

5. Rinse the artichokes in running cold water.

artichoke-3.jpg6. In a large pot, put a couple inches of water, a clove of garlic, a slice of lemon, and a bay leaf (this adds wonderful flavor to the artichokes). Insert a steaming basket. Add the artichokes. Cover. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 25 to 45 minutes or until the outer leaves can easily be pulled off. Note: artichokes can also be cooked in a pressure cooker (about 15-20 minutes cooking time). Cooking time depends on how large the artichoke is, the larger, the longer it takes to cook.

How to Eat an Artichoke

Artichokes may be eaten cold or hot, but I think they are much better hot. They are served with a dip, either melted butter or mayonaise. My favorite dip is mayo with a little bit of balsamic vinegar mixed in.

1. Pull off outer petals, one at a time.

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2. Dip white fleshy end in melted butter or sauce. Tightly grip the other end of the petal. Place in mouth, dip side down, and pull through teeth to remove soft, pulpy, delicious portion of the petal. Discard remaining petal.

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Continue until all of the petals are removed.

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3. With a knife or spoon, scrape out and discard the inedible fuzzy part (called the "choke") covering the artichoke heart. The remaining bottom of the artichoke is the heart. Cut into pieces and dip into sauce to eat.

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