No joke, 'chokes are ripe for the dipping


Although the slightly sweet flesh of artichokes is tasty enough to eat by itself, plucking and dipping the leaves is part of the fun.

Melted butter is always appropriate for dipping. Mayonnaise and salad-dressing-type dips provide a cool spring accompaniment.

Plain mayonnaise, especially homemade yolkless mayonnaise (recipe below), is suitable for any number of mix-ins, from garlic puree to minced chilies. Allow 1/4 cup of dip per person.

Although artichokes are available year-round, the biggest harvest is in spring and early summer.

Selecting artichokes

Select artichokes with compact heads that feel heavy for their size, suggests "Sunset Fresh Produce" (Lane Publishing, $7.95). Brown spots on the leaves, caused by frost, do not hurt flavor; in fact, some people believe a frost enhances the flavor of the 'choke.

Cooking artichokes

Boiling water method: Cut the stem off even with the base. Trim 1 inch from top of artichokes or snip points from individual leaves. Place artichokes in a large pot and add water to cover. Put pot on stove over high heat. Boil 20 to 45 minutes, depending on size, or until a petal near center pulls out easily.

Microwave method: Cut the stem off even with the base. Trim 1 inch from top of artichokes. Snip the thorny points of remaining leaves, if desired. Rinse thoroughly, and drain, but do not shake all water off. Wrap artichokes individually in wax paper or plastic wrap. For one large artichoke, microwave on high (100 percent power) for 6 minutes, turning once. For two, microwave for 10 minutes, turning once. Allow to stand 2 minutes before removing wrap.

Eating an artichoke

The fleshy bottom or heart of the artichoke is the edible portion of this member of the thistle family, according to "Sunset Fresh Produce." To eat an artichoke, pull off leaves individually, use the fleshy end to scoop the dip and draw the leaf between your teeth to scrape off the flesh. When you have finished with the fleshy leaves, scoop out the fuzzy core and discard it. Cut the remaining heart into bite-size dipping pieces.

Mayonnaise mix-ins

With mayonnaise as a base, any of these ingredients can be added for an artichoke dipping sauce. Use 1 to 2 tablespoons to 1 cup of mayonnaise, depending on how strong you want the NTC flavor. Garlic, chives, herbs, chilies or onion can also be blended into melted butter.

Pureed roasted garlic

Chopped fresh chives

Minced assorted fresh herbs, such as dill, tarragon or basil

Coarse-grain mustard

Wasabi (Japanese horseradish) or bottled horseradish

Minced or pureed chilies (such as jalapenos, anchos or Anaheims)

Chopped caramelized onion

Chili oil

Yolkless mayonnaise

Makes 1 1/3 cups, about 5 servings.

1/4 cup egg substitute

1 egg white

1 1/8 teaspoons dry mustard

dash cayenne

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon rice vinegar or white vinegar

2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon oil

Combine egg substitute, egg white, mustard, cayenne, lemon juice, vinegar and 1/3 cup of the oil in a blender container; blend at high speed until smooth. With blender running, gradually add remaining oil in a fine, steady stream until mixture emulsifies and thickens. Chill 1 hour before using.

Source: "Light Style" by Rose Dosti and Deborah Kidushim-Allen (Harper Collins, $14.95).

Artichoke vinaigrette

Makes 1 cup.

1 tablespoon prepared mustard

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

pepper to taste

Mix mustard and vinegar. Whisk while drizzling in oil. Stir in parsley and pepper.

Tarragon-garlic dressing

Makes 1 1/4 cups.

1 cup plain, non-fat yogurt

1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon soy sauce

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients. Mix well.

Source: "Pritikin Cookbook" (Pritikin Systems, 1990).

Creamy garlic dressing

Makes 1 3/4 cups.

1 1/4 cups plain low-fat yogurt

1/2 cup non-fat milk

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried basil (see note)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 teaspoon dried sage

1 teaspoon dried dill

Combine all ingredients. Mix well.

Source: "Light Style" by Rose Dosti and Deborah Kidushim-Allen (Harper Collins, $14.95).

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