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Bento Recipes: Steamed artichoke


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Steamed artichoke is one of my favorite foods. It's not a common one for several reasons. One, it's expensive. Each artichoke can cost $2.50 to $3.50 or more. Two, hardly anyone has heard of them, it seems. I don't know how many times I've had to explain to cashiers what they are so they could look up the price. Three, they make you work for very little actual food. Pull off the leaves one by one, dip the bottom in melted butter, scrape the little bit of "meat" off with your teeth, throw the leaf away. Repeat until you're close to the heart, at which point you scrape the rest of the stuff away to reveal a shallow bowl-shaped bit of food about the size of the palm of a child's hand, which you cut up and dunk in butter. For some people, they just aren't worth the effort. However, I don't mind doing a bit of work for my food, and anyone who eats with chopsticks can deal with food you can't simply shovel into your mouth. Plus, artichokes with butter are delicious. I can't stress that enough.

So, here's how you cook 'em. First, buy one artichoke for each person at the table. The best artichokes are the conical ones with triangular leaves tipped with clawlike thorns. Rinse each well by running water down into it from the top for about a minute. Then cut off the stem right where it meets the bud. You may want to clip off the tips of the leaves with the claws, the way my mother did; I don't bother, myself. Then set them in a steamer and cook them over medium high heat for 30 minutes. Check to see if it's done by trying to pull off a leaf a few layers in with your tongs. If it's ready, the leaf will come away with a gentle tug. If it doesn't, let it cook another 10 minutes and try again. Cooking times vary according to the size and type of artichoke.

You can use plain melted butter, but I like to add a few drops of lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt. Serve the butter in a small dipping dish or a tiny teacup. Also, have a bowl on hand for the discarded leaves.