Eeyore’s Thistle (Artichoke); featured tea, Lady Grey; featured poet, Pablo Neruda

“Welcome to my little thistle patch.” Eeyore’s Thistle Patch by A. A. Milne

Artichokes are a starchy veggie but high in Vitamin A and potassium and. . .The artichoke’s spiny green flowers, which are eaten like a vegetable, contain a substance called cynarin. A recent study showed that this compound may help rid the body of artery-clogging cholesterol and lower triglycerides, thus reducing the risk of heart disease.” CBS Better Nutrition

It’s probably easier to pick out a good artichoke than it is to pick out a good melon. The leaves need to be tight and green. When you squeeze it, it should make a squeaky noise. That lets you know its fresh and moist.The choke should feel heavy for its size. My own preference is for artichokes that still have some stem attached, which is good to eat and helps the choke retain moisture.

To prepare the artichoke for cooking:

  • With a sharp knife tip and top the choke; that is, cut the stem off so that it will sit flat in the pot and on the plate; trim the top.
  • Peel off the smaller lower leaves on the outside of the choke. Usually just one layer will do it.
  • With a kitchen shears or other sharp scissor, trim the thorny tip from the top of each leaf.
  • Pressing down on the choke, spread the leaves open a bit. Or, you can do it my own eccentric way, which is to take the ball of the choke in my hand and bang the top of it against the side of your clean sink.
  • Rinse well inside and out under cold water. If you use a veggie wash, which is a good thing to do, make sure you run water though the inside to clear it all out.

To cook:

 Fill a pot large enough to accommodate your artichokes with enough water to come about half-way up the chokes. Set them in the pan. Peel and sliver one or two large garlic cloves per artichoke. Slip the slivers in between the leaves. Top with a spoonful or two of extra virgin olive oil and some freshly grated Himalayan pink salt and black pepper.  Toss the stems and some extra garlic cloves into the water. Bring the water to a boil. Cover. Lower heat. Simmer for approximately one hour. (Timing will depend on the size of the artichokes.) To see if they’re done, test with a butter knife, which should easily move through the center of the choke.  When the artichokes are cooked through, remove them from the pot – holding each over the pot for a minute to let the water drain out and then place them on individual serving dishes.

How to eat an artichoke:

As the video notes, some like to dip the leaves in butter. I have known people to use garlic mayonnaise, Hollandaise sauce, or an array of other sauces that suit their taste. I am a purist.  A bit more salt maybe for me, but that’s it. I don’t want or need anything to mask the artichoke flavor.

Now my peasant roots will show. A quick grain-free soup:

Don’t waste the cooking water. It’s full of flavor and nutrients. Leave the stems and garlic in the pot. Add a cup or two of minced carrot, onions, celery and cauliflower rice. Simmer until the veggies are tender. Taste for seasoning. Add cayenne pepper to taste. Ladle this soup into serving bowls and top with a dollop of extra-virgin olive oil and some freshly grated parmesan cheese or vegan parma.

Featured Tea:

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Enjoy with a hot cup of Lebanese style Lady Grey tea. What makes it Lebanese? Serving it with a spring of fresh spearmint. If you like to sweeten it, I would suggest using only Xylotol made from birch. This is what I use.

And with that here’s the poem and poet of the day.

Ode to the Artichoke

The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained
Unshakeable,
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Uncurled
Their tendrills and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil
The carrot
With its red mustaches
Was sleeping,
The grapevine
Hung out to dry its branches
Through which the wine will rise,
The cabbage
Dedicated itself
To trying on skirts,
The oregano
To perfuming the world,
And the sweet
Artichoke
There in the garden,
Dressed like a warrior,
Burnished
Like a proud
Pomegrante.
And one day
Side by side
In big wicker baskets
Walking through the market
To realize their dream
The artichoke army
In formation.
Never was it so military
Like on parade.
The men
In their white shirts
Among the vegetables
Were
The Marshals
Of the artichokes
Lines in close order
Command voices,
And the bang
Of a falling box.But
Then
Maria
Comes
With her basket
She chooses
An artichoke,
She’s not afraid of it.
She examines it, she observes it
Up against the light like it was an egg,
She buys it,
She mixes it up
In her handbag
With a pair of shoes
With a cabbage head and a
Bottle
Of vinegar
Until
She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Then
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.
– Pablo Neruda
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Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), Parral, Chile
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), b. Parral, Chile

“You can say anything you want, yes sir, but it’s the words that sing, they soar and they descend ….. I bow to them . . . I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them . . I love words so much … The ones I wait for greedily … they glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish… They are foam, thread, metal, dew … I stalk certain words… They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem… I catch them in mid-flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them, I set myself in front of the dish, they have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, vegetable, oily, like fruit, like algae, like agates, like olives… And I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them …. I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, like pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves … Everything exists in the word.” Pablo Neruda in his Memoirs

Photo credits: California artichoke courtesy of Karen Fayeth; Neruda photo is in the U.S. Public Domain, 1966, Neruda recording his poetry

Lucious, lip-smacking Tahini recipes; featured tea, iced Lebanese lemonade tea; featured poet, Michael Steffen

… If form follows function, 
it stands to reason that pain is the fate of all “brainy” things –
cauliflower, coral and raspberry clumps, the florets that sizzle
in my spiced tahini.
The Veggi Life by Michael Steffen 

Hummus photo above courtesy of Beyrouthhh under  CC BY  3.0  License

These dips are tasty with veggies for healthy, low-carb high-fiber snacking.  But first the tea ….

The PDQ version: Iced Lebanese lemonade Tea, combine equal parts unsweetened black tea with sweetened lemonade and a teaspoon of rosewater for each four cups. (You’ll find the most reasonably priced rosewater in ethnic groceries.) Add or pour over ice.

Here’s my  tahini collection: all good Greek, Lebanese and Turkish peasant food. They are not only healthy and flavorful but budget-wise.

TAHINI AND LEMON

Thin two-or-three tablespoons of tahini with fresh lemon juice for a quick and easy dip, spread, or sauce for falafel, fish or fried vegetables. I don’t care to thin it with vinegar, but some people do. If it sounds appeal, try this with white vinegar instead of lemon.

SPICED TAHINI AND LEMON

Makes about one cup of dip

  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, best quality you can afford
  • Pinch of Aleppo Pepper, or to taste
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh, cilantro, minced fine

Place all ingredients except for the cilantro in a blender and process.  If it is too thick, thin with added lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings.  Place in a serving dish and top with the minced, fresh cilantro leaves. Serve with your favorite bread or crudités.

TAHINI WITH YOGURT

Makes about one cup of dip

  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/4 cup thick Greek yogurt, can be nonfat
  • 2 cloves of garlic, skinned and minced
  • 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch of  Aleppo Pepper
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup minced, fresh cilantro

Place all ingredients except the lemon juice and cilantro in a blender.  Add the lemon juice and process again. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Place in a serving bowl and top with the cilantro. Serve as an accompaniment to fried fish or vegetables.

TAHINI WITH GROUND ALMONDS

Makes about one cup of dip

  • 1 cloves of garlic, skinned
  • 1/2 cup finely ground almonds
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • Pinch of Aleppo Pepper
  • Salt to taste

Prepare as above and serve as an accompaniment to cold turkey, chicken, or ham or as a veggie dip.

TAHINI WITH EGGPLANT, Baba Ghanouz

Makes about two cups   

  • 1 large deep-purple eggplant, trim a slice off the ends
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup of tahini
  • 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cumin
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Pinch of Aleppo pepper
  • 2 tablespoon fresh parsley or cilantro, minced fine
  • 1/2 Roma tomato, diced
  • 3-4 Kalamata olives, pitted and minced

Wash and dry the eggplant and char it over hot coals (best) or under a broiler.  The skin should blister and blacken. When done, run the eggplant under cold water while gently removing the skin.  Squeeze out the bitter juices and then mash the eggplant by processing it in a blender. Slowly add lemon juice and tahini alternately.  Then add the cumin, salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasoning as appropriate.  Place in a serving bowl and top with the tomatoes and olives.  Serve with gluten-free bread or crackers or crudités.

TAHINI WITH CHICKPEAS, “Hummus” or Hummus bi Tahini

Note: “Hummus” means chickpea and “bi” means with. The addition of tahini to other legumes does not turn them into chickpeas. So, for example, “white bean hummus” is not hummus. It’s  white beans with tahini. (Sorry!  This is a pet peeve.)

Makes about two cups.   

  • 1 15 oz. can chickpeas, open and drain
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/2 cup of lemon juice or more to taste
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil, best quality you can afford
  • Smoked Hungarian Paprika
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced fine

Place the chickpeas, tahini, and garlic in the blender and process.  Taste and add salt and lemon juice as appropriate.  If the dip seems too thick, you can thin it with some more lemon juice.  Place in a bowl and top with a spoonful of olive oil, a dusting of paprika, and the minced parsley.

  • When pomegranates are in season, you can top the hummus bi tahini and baba ghanouz with pomegranate seeds instead of the above.

– Jamie Dedes


And now, our featured poet ….

MICHAEL STEFFEN is an American poet living in upstate New York. His collections are No Good at Sea, (Legible Press in 2002)  Heart Murmur (Bordighera Press, 2009) and Bad Behavior (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2012).  Winner of the 2008 Bordighera Poetry Prize judged by Michael Palma or Heart Murmur (recommended). Michael was awarded a 2002 Fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. f. His work is published in many literary journals.  Michael has an MFA in Creative Writing Program from Vermont College. You can read more of his poetry on his website and order his poetry collections from there. Michael’s Amazon page is HERE.

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