It’s nearly the end of July, and surprisingly, summer time has not yet come to the north of france. So while I was hoping to have this blog entry up and ready weeks ago, to me it still feels like the end of March, so I’m not really that much behind…
In any case, I am now settled into my new home and all that, so I have been looking around to see what local ingredients would be worth using, and boom! Found something. Since my arrival here, the markets have been chock-full of artichokes. I generally stay away from cooking artichokes because, well I don’t really know how to eat them. The only way I’ve ever had them was when they were steamed and served with a little bowl of lemon-butter sauce. Pretty good.
Every week, I would see them at the market. I would try to avoid their gazes and keep on walking by, but every time, they kept begging me to do something with them. The artichoke season is generally from early spring to mid-summer, so they are almost done now. So I called my mom and she told me a great recipe her mother used to do. Hence today’s entry.
My grandmother, Samira, had a real knack for cooking. Apparently, in addition to illustrating children’s books, she would whip up these amazing meals for guests, and everything was done to perfection. In her repertoire of recipes was stuffed artichokes: my mother’s worst nightmare. This meal was apparently the root cause of many disagreements between my mother and grandmother. Quite simply, my mother hates artichokes. And when she tells me this story, the details she remembers are more along the lines of the smell of the artichokes mixed with her feelings of being a little queasy from the thought of eating them. To get through such a meal, she did what any child would do: hide the artichokes.
Visiting Egypt, artichokes are not really the first thing on everyone’s meal list. But they are generally served on occasion when they are season. Though artichokes do grow in the wild in North Africa, they originate from Southern Europe. It is believed that the seeds of artichokes came from the Romans when they took over Egypt and the surrounding areas back in 30 B.C. However the name ‘artichoke’ is a derivative from the arabic word ‘al khurshuuf’, meaning thorny plant, though the actual arabic word for artichoke is ‘ardi-shoki’
The arabic influence in the naming of artichokes could be pointed to the time of the Islamic empire that had taken over North Africa, and much of Europe. Artichokes were being cultivated in Granada, Spain and simultaneously in Sicily. During this time, the evolution of the artichoke took place, and the Arabs are credited for transforming the artichoke into the plant we know today. After the end of the Islamic empire, around the late 1400s, artichokes remerged and were primarily cultivated in Naples.
In due time, the Dutch introduced artichokes to England around the 1500s. While Europe was busy taking over the world around this time, both French and Spanish immigrants brought artichokes over to the United States.
All this to say is that the artichoke, got its humble start in the wild around the Mediterranean, but somehow managed to make its way all over. Today, Egypt is one of the top three producers in the world of artichokes.
As is the case with many of the stuffed items in Egypt, stuffed artichokes are filled with ground meat and topped with béchamel sauce. The tart taste of the artichoke is what makes this dish perfectly suited to this type of preparation. I will say though – as a warning – prepping artichokes for cooking is not the easiest of tasks, though it isn’t all that hard. Don’t be put off by it, but do use a sharp knife.
Total preparation time: 30 minutes
Total cooking time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 persons
4 artichokes (try to choose ones that do not have too many brown spots on them)
1 cup of ground meat (lamb or beef)
1 finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon of oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (optional)
2 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of milk
1/4 cup of flour
1. Cut stem off.
2. Cut off the top of the artichoke.
3.Cut off exterior leaves (top and bottom) until you get to the heart – what the leaves are attached to at the base.
4. Scoop out all the hairs in the artichoke; they are probably purplish in colour.
5. Bring to boil a medium sized pot with water, a pinch of salt and two or three slices of lemon.
6. Add the artichokes to the boiling water.
7. Leave them to cook until you can easily pass a knife through one of them. (about 10 minutes)
8. Add onions and meat to pan on high heat
9. Add allspice, cinnamon, salt, pepper to meat
10. Continue cooking on medium heat until meat is unclumped and well-cooked
14. Keep stirring milk and butter until it is hot; but not boiling
15. With a whisk or fork, add a bit of the flour stirring vigorously
16. Keep stirring until all the flour is added
17. The sauce will thicken up once everything has dissolved.Season with salt and pepper.
18. In a casserole dish, place the cooked artichokes.
19. Fill them with meat.
20. Cover them with béchamel.
21. Put in the oven for about 10 minutes (350F), or until they are golden.
22. Serve them with a salad and enjoy!