Vegan MoFo Challenge #4: artichoke heart & kalamata olive-stuffed tofu cutlets baked in tomato sauce!
Tuesday, November 9, 2010 2 Comments
As previously mentioned, I’m going to challenge myself to cook and eat as many new foods as possible, during MoFo and beyond. For each challenge, I’ll have a Q&A for people who are equally unfamiliar with the ingredient used.
Today’s ingredient was…
What is it?
Artichokes are a member of the thistle family, which is pretty obvious when you see a picture of them growing! An artichoke heart is the tender middle part of the flower of the perennial globe artichoke, Cynara scolymus. It’s like an edible thistle.
The hearts of “baby” artichokes are edible. Since you need to peel off all of the scales/leaves and scrape out the inedible choke in order to get to the heart of an “adult” artichoke, I opted to take the coward’s way out and use that little jar of pre-grilled, pre-marinated artichoke hearts for my first on-the-fly recipe. The idea of messing up and accidentally leaving some choke in a freshly steamed artichoke is simply too terrifying of a possibility for me to face today.
According to the New York Times, “Artichokes contain a compound called cynarin, which stimulates taste bud receptors and makes even mediocre food delicious.” I’ve also heard eating artichokes can make neutral flavors taste sweet. The more you know!
Where can you find it?
Fresh artichokes can be rather understandably tough to find here in Wisconsin — I don’t know if I’ve ever even seen one at a regular old grocery store or any of the ethnic markets I regularly visit. Fortunately, the Trader Joe’s at Bayshore Mall came to the rescue here: TJ’s has jarred hearts, canned hearts, frozen hearts, and fresh whole artichokes! I bought 1 jar of hearts, 1 bag of frozen hearts, and 4 fresh whole artichokes for a little over $7. In places where artichokes can grow (USDA hardiness zone 7 and up — find your zone here!), I imagine they’re as common as can be. In the northern hemisphere, they’re usually harvested around April and again around October, so they may pop up in more stores around those times.
How do you select, store, and/or prepare it?
The freshest artichokes are heavy (which means they’re still retaining water), squeaky when you squeeze them, and shiny. The scales/leaves should still be tight against the center of the artichoke — the further apart they are, the older/closer to the flowering stage the artichoke is. Store whole artichokes in a bag in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
To prepare the leaves, snip off the top half-inch or so of each leaf, splash or rub the whole artichoke with lemon juice, and steam the whole artichoke for 30-45 minutes, until tender — if you pull on a leaf and it comes off easily, or you can poke a fork into the stem on the underside with very little resistance, it’s done. (Splashing or rubbing the cut artichokes with pure lemon juice or vinegar or soaking in a bowl of water spiked with lemon juice or vinegar prevents browning.) The tender inner leaves taste best, so you can peel off the tough outer leaves before cooking if you want. You can also eat the stems of artichokes, if they’ve been peeled; peeled artichoke stems taste just like the hearts.
To prepare the heart, remove all of the exterior leaves and scrape the fibrous, hairy choke out with a knife and/or spoon. I bet a grapefruit spoon would work well here. Here’s a rather intimidating how-to on how to get the choke out, and here’s a lovely pictorial on the whole process, starting with a fresh artichoke.
How do you eat it?
Artichoke hearts are great in paninis, tossed with pasta or rice, or added to Greek salad along with kalamata olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and tofeta. You can also bread and deep-fry them, braise them, steam them and eat the bottom of each fleshy leaf with a dipping sauce, stuff and bake them, blend them into hummus, pesto, or soup, chop them up for a quick bruschetta, or throw together some spinach-artichoke dip. If you haven’t had artichoke hearts on pizza, you haven’t lived.
What does it taste like?
Some people say artichokes taste a bit like asparagus, which is my favorite vegetable.
Would I eat this ingredient again?
I will be eating artichoke hearts as often as doing so remains financially feasible.
ARTICHOKE HEART & KALAMATA OLIVE-STUFFED BAKED TOFU CUTLETS
» 1 package extra-firm tofu (I use Simple Soyman herb-style)
» 1 (7.5 oz) jar marinated grilled artichoke hearts, drained & rinsed
» 1/4 c kalamata olives, pitted
» 1 c tomato sauce
» 1/2 c seasoned flour, for breading* (optional, but highly recommended)
» oil, for frying (optional — and yes, I do fry basically everything)
» kosher salt, to taste
* Use whatever kind of flour and season to taste with whatever dried herbs you’d like! I usually add Ozark Fried Chicken Seasoning and nooch to regular all-purpose flour to make fake Shake ‘n’ Bake, and keep a Tupperware full of it on hand for all breading emergencies.
Combine the artichoke hearts and kalamata olives and give ‘em a few whirls in a food processor. Alternately, hand-chop them — note that this will be a pain, because jarred artichoke hearts are quite soft and slippery. Set aside to let the flavors combine. It ain’t pretty, but it is delicious.
Cut the block of tofu into 1-inch thick slices. Make a slit slightly to the left of the center of one side of each slice, and another slit slightly left of center, then connect the two slits with two additional small cuts at the top and bottom. The inimitable SusanV has a great pictorial on how to do this, albeit with triangles. Use a spoon to gently scoop out the tofu in the little cut-out rectangle, and add the tofu you scoop out to the artichoke-olive mixture. If you have extra stuffing, sprinkle it on your cutlets before baking, or eat it as antipasto with pita bread or crackers!
Preheat oven to 400F.
If you are frying: Toss each hollowed-out cutlet in the seasoned flour mixture, then pan-fry until golden brown, or about 3-4 minutes on each side. Set aside to drain and cool.
If you are not frying: Sprinkle kosher salt all over each cutlet, rub it in, and set aside for 10-15 minutes so it can absorb the salt.
Pick each cutlet up and use a spoon to gently stuff it full of the artichoke-kalamata-tofu mixture.
Set the stuffed cutlets in a pre-greased baking pan and pour tomato sauce over and around them.
Bake sauced cutlets for 20-30 minutes at 400F, and enjoy!
I served these with Veganomicon lemony roasted potatoes, pan-seared broccoli, and steamed spinach tossed with lemon juice (I CANNOT GET ENOUGH LEMON JUICE) and toasted cashews. Oh, and some Drank! Y’know, for the relaxation.