dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships
– ansel adams
Incidental Metaphors. They are abundant when all you seek is the heart of an artichoke, or so I noticed, when my artichoke lover came to retrieve a few of his belongings from our previously shared space. I, in my magnificent callousness, offered him some artichokes, neglecting to mention that I had removed all of the hearts from the whole herd. I pureed the best part in a soup with fartichokes, but I couldn’t eat the lot because I purchased way too much for one very nauseated belly. How terrible can I get?
He politely declined, but then politely asked for one, but “to go,” in that sweet, “I still like artichokes but I’d rather not eat them while choking” tone. I dutifully stuffed their broken, sharp petals into a travelling bag and offered, with shame, a sack of heartless artichokes. Miraculously, the man was kind enough to laugh at my parsimonious poetics when I admitted to removing all of the hearts from his measly gift of fucking artichokes. So then I offered him a lemon, just in case his life had not done so… he wasn’t sure if he had any actual lemons, so of course, I made sure he had enough for princess lemonade, which is to say, I’m a horrible poet, because I thought that taste dictates a serving of heartless artichokes with a fresh squeeze of someone else’s acid. My hell is a bottomless pitcher of rotten lemonade.
And the soup? Nourishing, but bloated between spoons full of guilt. He didn’t want any of that, of course, so we nervously laughed among tears while I acted anxious and shifty. That was a few months ago…
Historically, I am not an artichoke lover. I find their hearts to be too much work. I like to reckon the prickly leaves with my teeth, but the chokes, the fuzzy growth at the centre, makes them particularly vexing, despite my admiration for their biological defense.
The artichoke plant itself is an evolved rose of thorns. It takes a brave set of hands to tackle the brambles, chop off the head, remove the tips, treat it with heat, and then, neatly remove each petal just to choke. It doesn’t get much more masochistic than that, considering the difficulty in executing just the right amount of time under that heat and pressure so that it is perfectly al dente. Too much heat and the artichoke heart gets mushy. Too little and the little brats remain hard. Of course, you can’t really tell until you’re already knee deep in thistles. It’s all in a day’s work eating flowers – I, personally, would have been content with canned artichokes. I am quite lazy after all.
As it turns out, baby artichokes are easy to cut up and there are no chokes or choking involved. I was thinking of them a bit after my artichoke lover and I sat down to a Friday rosé last week, just… for casual talks with chilled roseate wine. We had a crunchy green salad of cucumber and waxy yellow beans speckled with preserved lemon confetti and I thought of young artichokes in the raw. Afterwards, we walked around the block to the car, he climbed on a tree and gathered some red fruits which I stuffed into my pockets. We ate those stony fruits as we walked and I gathered bits of sidewalk lavender, scattering stony seeds along our path across the highway that cuts through the city. I’m leaving the lavender and stone fruits out of this salad, but perhaps the seeds will grow into fruiting trees and the lavender – I’m keeping on my table until the time comes for more lemonade.
Today, I made this salad in the optimism of morning. It was a good morning and the sun was slow moving – a decadent kind of Monday that reminds you of the summer and its deliberately slow hours. In my slow June tempo, I was extra careful and the flowers only stabbed me once. I even managed to use a mandolin without incident.
This is the salad to try if you happen upon small baby artichokes. I’ve tried it with adult artichokes and they defy the mandolin and the chokes – they’re not to be messed with for raw artichoke salads! You don’t have to use preserved lemons for this, but I love their salty, complex flavors peeking through the crunchy artichokes and salty slivers of cheese. It’s one of the more crunchy salads and you will likely want green almonds because it is delicate and jelly-like, but it’s not an absolute, just like my fear of thorny chokes.
Raw artichoke salad for one:
3 very small baby artichoke
scant 1/4 c thinly sliced parmesan cheese
scant 1/4 c watercress or arugula
1/2″ square of preserved lemon, chopped finely
1 meyer lemon
9 green almonds
12 mint leaves
3 ts grapeseed oil
+ Juice your lemon, reserving 1 ts. – place the remainder of the juice, a few pinches of salt, and 1/2 c. water into a bowl. Then, prepare your artichokes by removing hard outer leaves and cutting off the top with a sharp knife. Place each one into the acidulated water as you prep the next one to prevent browning. Then, very carefully, shave the artichokes with a mandolin and put the slices immediately into the water. Likewise, you can also julienne them.
+ You should let them sit for about 15-30 minutes as that softens them a bit while adding lemon flavor.
+ Green almonds are harder this time of year so you should shell them, but if they are young, you can eat them whole, sliced.
+ Prepare your dressing with the reserved lemon juice, grapeseed oil, preserved lemons, and salt to taste. Then, toss the artichokes with half of the dressing and set aside. Next, toss the dressing with watercress, cheese, and mint. Plate your salad with the cress, top with artichokes, add the almonds on top with some fresh ground white pepper.