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Artichokes, an aphrodisiac

When I see Artichokes at the market, I think work, work, work! It does take some effort to clean and prepare them, but it is worth every moment.  Because I love the look and the color of the Artichoke so much, I decided to take some time to learn more about this vegetable.
The Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) was dedicated to Venus and was believed to be an aphrodisiac. Because of this the Globe Artichoke became one of the main features in the diets for the wealthy and the noble.  I thought that there must be love somewhere in this colorful veg.
The Artichoke grows wild in the Mediterranean region, is a delicacy in the Middle East and is widely eaten throughout the world.  The Arabic name for an Artichoke is “al Khurshuf” which means prickle or thorn?
How does it grow?
The Artichoke plant is a tall beautiful majestic plant with serrated leaves.  Once the purple flowers come into full bloom it is an awesome sight. The Cone shaped Artichoke is harvested in late winter and the Globe Artichoke is harvested in the early winter.
How to buy and store them?
Choose large heads with tightly closed, fresh looking scales.  To confirm freshness, pick the artichoke up by holding the thick stem, the heads should droop slightly.  Do not buy them if the stems appear stiff this means Artichokes are old and could be hard and woody.  Once you have bought them keep them in a vase with water, like you would keep flowers.
Here in the Middle East you can buy ready prepared artichoke hearts which makes life easy but…
Buying them fresh and preparing them is much more fun.  
Do they have medicinal uses?
Well they do contain Cynarin which is believed to be beneficial to the liver.  A tonic is said improve the body’s metabolism and give you an overall feeling of well-being.
What are the culinary uses?
I find the tastiest way too prepare artichokes is too poach them in water containing olive oil and lemon juice with a little fresh dill or freshly chopped garlic for flavor.
This is the way a Turkish dish “Zeytinyagli” is prepared and it tastes great.  A modern Arabic dish with Artichokes is called “Ardishawki” and in this dish the Artichokes are stuffed with meat. In one of the dishes prepared with Artichokes in Lebanese cooking, the Artichokes are combined with broad beans and almonds.

To clean the Artichokes

  • Remove the stalk, scales, flower and hairy choke to expose the heart
  • Rub lemon onto the hearts (this prevents the artichoke from discoloring, they go brown very quickly)
  • Place the Artichoke hearts into a bowl of cold water; add salt and a dash of lemon juice
To prepare 4 Artichoke hearts you will need:
  • 110 ml Olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 50 ml water
  • Salt
  • A Pinch of Turkish red pepper
  • ½ tsp of fennel seeds
  • A small bunch of chopped dill
  • 1 lemon cut into wedges
 Method
  • Place the hearts in a pan with the water, olive oil, lemon juice, fennel seeds and the Turkish red pepper.
  • Cover with a lid and poach on a low heat for 15-20 minutes.
  • Add salt to taste and continue to poach for about 10 more minutes, when the Artichokes are tender to the touch, remove them from the heat and leave to cool in the pan.
  • Place the Artichokes in a serving dish, spoon some flavored olive oil over them.  Sprinkle with the dill and serve with the lemon wedges.

Go out and buy this lovely vegetable, nearly to beautiful to eat.  Artichokes are so tasty and you can try out many recipes.

 

the colour purple

I love walking through the market and seeing the variety of beautiful, purple coloured aubergines? (French for eggplant.)

I can always imagine the smell of it, when it gets roasted over an open flame and just about taste the smokiness of the eggplant.  Aubergines, apparently, originated from India and plays a leading role in the culinary world of the Middle East.

I would have thought that Aubergines were always part of the food scene, but in fact, it was only introduced in the seventh and eighth centuries.  The Arabs fell in love with

Aubergines when they conquered Iran in the seventh century. Therefore, the adopted Old Persian name, al badin-gan, pronounced al-badinjan.

Aubergines spread through the Middle East and North Africa and became a staple food, commonly referred to as the “poor man’s meat”.  In Iran it is called “poor man’s caviar”.

In Turkey, where it is considered to be the king of vegetables, it is called “patlican”.  Turkish cuisine has 200 different dishes containing aubergines.

 

 

 

I would like to share a recipe that I developed and fell in love with –

Aubergines cooked whole over an open flame! It has a sharp, smoky flavour that blends amazingly well with yogurt and olive oil.

My take on this Middle Eastern Aubergine dish…

 

 

 

 

Put the aubergine directly on the gas flame of your stove. Using tongs, turn it over until it is cooked on all sides.

When the aubergine is ready it will appear as in the picture.

Once you have taken the cooked aubergine from the stove, cut it open and remove the flesh.

You can leave a little bit of the burnt skin with the flesh. It gives the flesh a more smoky taste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To make the dish, mix the following ingredients together in a bowl:

1 large chopped smoked aubergine

3 tablespoons full fat Greek yogurt

½ teaspoon flaky smoked salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 glove finely chopped garlic

¼ teaspoon sumac – optional

Sumac is the dark red berry of the shrub “Rhus coriaria” which is dried and then called sumac. The dried berries are brick-red, tinged with purple with a lemony, woody taste. Sumac was used long before lemons arrived in the Middle East and this was used as the souring agent in their food. 

 

Serve your burnt aubergine with a combination of the seeds of half a pomegranate and thinly sliced fresh basil leaves (use extra basil leaves as garnish).

Enjoy with flatbread.

I really do believe that you will love this quick and easy dish, just as much as I do. 

 

 

 

Chef’s tip:  If you had a barbeque, and you have some aubergines, put them on the dying embers of the charcoal fire and leave to smoke overnight.  Ready to be used the next morning.