Sunday, April 27, 2014

Steamed Artichokes with Vegan Herbed Aioli

Spring is coming to southern California and even in LA, where the seasons barely change, there is something magical about this time of year. 

Flowers seem brighter, the air gets warmer and, of course, the farmer's market starts filling up with the tender greens and bright fruits that hint at the arrival of summer. 

Last week I went to San Francisco to visit a friend. On our way back we drove down the Pacific Coast highway, which flirts back and forth between ocean and farmland along its journey south. The views were truly spectacular but one vista unexpectedly stuck with me: acres and acres of artichokes at their peak of ripeness. We even drove past some farm stands selling them 10 for a dollar!
One of many beautiful views on our trip down the PCH
I had my heart set on getting one of those springtime-fresh artichokes all week, and when I went to the market this morning I was not disappointed. The prickly green globes may not look edible, but their thorny geometric petals belie a tender and savory treat like no other. 
The concept of mindful eating - taking time to appreciate each bite of food - is perfectly tailored to the act of eating an artichoke. Each petal must be peeled away and scraped against the teeth for a mere morsel of food, but it is truly an experience worth working for. 
I like to make artichokes simply. I steamed the artichokes from the market in water to which I added a quartered lemon, smashed garlic cloves, and a few leaves of basil. After 40 minutes they were perfect. I served them with a vegan herbed aioli and some crunchy toasted baguette to round out a perfect Sunday afternoon meal. 

Daunted by the thought of preparing an artichoke? It's actually very simple; you can learn how here

Steamed Artichokes with Vegan Herbed Aioli 

For the artichokes:

2 artichokes, trimmed
1 lemon, quartered
4 leaves of fresh basil
4 crushed garlic cloves

1. Rub the cut surfaces of the trimmed artichoke with the lemon quarters.
2. Fill a a large pot (big enough to fit both artichokes) with 2-3 inches of water. Add the lemon, garlic, and basil. Insert a steamer basket, and add the artichokes.
3. Bring water to a simmer and steam the artichokes for 25-45 minutes (my artichokes were fairly large and tool the 40 minutes; smaller ones need less time). The artichoke is done when a knife cuts easily into the bottom, and the lower leaves are pulled off easily.
4. Let cool slightly. Artichokes can be served hot, room temperature, or cold. Serve with dipping sauce of your choice.

For the Vegan Herbed Aioli

1/2 cup vegan mayo*, such as Whole Foods 365 Organic brand
1 cup finely chopped mixed herbs (I used a mix of fresh dill, basil, parsley and cilantro)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Immersion blender

1. In a plastic container just slightly wider than the head of your immersion blender, combine the vegan mayo, herbs, garlic, and lemon juice.
2. Pour the extra virgin olive oil on top of the mayo mixture. Place your immersion blender at the bottom of the container, and start to blend, tilting the head of the blender slightly, until the mixture is combined and creamy (You can learn more about this technique at Serious Eats)
3. Add salt and pepper to taste.

*Stay away from vegan mayo that has a long list of ingredients. Their shouldn't be much more than oil, water, a sweetener, vinegar, soy protein, and lemon juice - basically the same ingredients you would find in a conventional homemade mayo, with a vegan protein replacing the egg yolk.

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