Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Artichoke; A Culinary Delicacy

Because of it's intricate structure, many people have shy ed away from this delectable and fiber rich vegetable. A single artichoke is actually an unopened flower bud from a thistle-like plant related to the daisy called the Cyanara scolymus. Each "bud" consists of outer leaves that are tough and inedible at the tip, but fleshy and tender at the base. The inedible "choke" (resembles corn silk) is enclosed within a light colored cone. The "heart" or the fleshy bottom of the artichoke is the vegetable equivalent of lobster. Cynarin, a substance present in artichokes stimulates the taste buds responsible for detecting sweet flavors. It makes the food you eat afterward taste sweet.
Preparing fresh artichokes can be labor intensive, yet more economical and flavorful than canned or frozen. Where to start? Wash under cold water. Cut off the top inch of each bud with a large sharp knife. Rub the cut parts in lemon juice to prevent browning (oxidation). Pull off any short, coarse leaves from the bottom and cut of the stem flush with the base so that the artichoke can stand upright. Boil, steam (25 to 40 min.) or microwave (4-7 min. ea.). Peel the cooked leaves and dip the fleshy base into dipping sauce, discarding the tougher tips. Discard the choke. The bottom can be cut up and dipped also. For recipes, the whole artichoke can be cooked and halved length-wise to remove the chokes. Leaves and quartered bottoms make great appetizers.
One serving size of the raw artichoke provides 47 calories, 3 g. protein, 11 g. dietary fiber. Also high on the list are Vitamin C, folate, potassium, and magnesium.

Artichoke Saute
9 oz. frozen artichoke hearts, thawed & drained.
4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided.
8 oz. sliced shiitake mushroom caps.
1 15oz. can chickpeas, rinsed & drained.
3 cloves garlic, chopped.
2 sliced scallions.
6 sprigs Italian parsley, chopped.
1 Tbs. lemon juice.
1/2 tsp. kosher salt.

In a large skillet, saute the artichokes in 1 Tbs. olive oil until browned. Remove from pan. Saute the mushrooms in 1 Tbs. olive oil until browned. Remove from pan, and repeat steps for chickpeas; lightly brown. Add the remaining olive oil, stir in garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Return mushrooms and artichokes to the pan and heat, add scallions and parsley. Season with lemon juice and salt. Serves 4. Calories: 290 Fat: 6 g (2 g. sat) Protein: 9 g. Sodium: 310 mg. Fiber: 10 g.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Green Tea Time

Green tea is an easy sell, in any package. But, does it live up to the hype? The studies on animals are impressive, but the evidence in humans has been hard to come by.
Green tea is rich in plant compounds, but the jury is still out over "if " and how much is needed to be of any health benefit. The best source of polyphenols is from brewed green tea and not some weak, ready-to-drink or instant tea product. Most contain as much sugar as soft drinks, and the coloring is largely from synthetic dyes.
Steep the tea bag for at least 3 minutes. Squeezing in some lemon adds vitamin C, which protects the polyphenols from being oxidized and lost. Three or more servings a day are required to keep blood levels of polyphenols high enough to be effective. If you drink bottled tea, look for one made primarily from brewed tea and not tea extracts or concentrate.