Friday, April 6, 2012

ARTICHOKES à la POLITA: a Greek Artichoke Stew (Αγκινάρες à la πολίτα)

I've made a Greek vegetable dish called artichokes à la Polita.  This hearty stew is a medley of braised artichokes, potatoes, carrots, peas, and onions, flavored with lemon and dill.  Spring is a peak harvesting season for artichokes.  It's a great time to buy them; they are better tasting, plentiful and can be had for a good price.  Cleaning them is a tedious job, but the effort is worth it.  You can use prepared artichokes for dips and such, but for this braised artichoke dish only the fresh stuff will do.  The taste of fresh artichokes is far, far superior to the frozen or jarred varieties.  The part used here is just the artichoke heart, and when it finishes cooking it's soft and lusciously flavorful. I can't think of cooking fresh artichokes any other way than by turning them into artichokes à la polita.

This artichoke heart was too large so I cut it in half

Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean region and were cultivated since the time of the ancient Greeks. This recipe has a very long history. It was made as far back as Byzantine times. The name polita means that the dish originated in the city of Constantinople, which was the capital of the Byzantine empire. Greeks referred to Constantinople simply as the polis (the city), because it was the most important city in the empire.  À la polita means "in the style of the polis," or Constantinople. 
Nutritionally, artichokes aid digestion and strengthen liver and gall bladder functions.  Another wonderful thing they do is to lower blood cholesterol levels. So they are good to eat and are good for you!  Now, here is my recipe for this fresh and flavorful vegetable stew starring the artichoke:
5 scallions, sliced
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into slices (Yukon gold potatoes taste great braised).
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
3/4 cup of frozen peas 
15 to 20 pearl onions (I used the red ones to add extra color, plus they impart a sweeter taste)
3 stalks celery, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (use some of the leaves, too)
8 to 10 fresh artichoke hearts
1 medium onion, grated
3/4 cup dill, chopped
Salt and peeper to taste
juice of one juicy lemon (the lemon juice should measure about 1/8 to 1/4 cup, according to taste - no more than that)
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
6 tablespoons olive oil
Have your veggies chopped and your lemon juice squeezed.  Clean the artichokes:  With your hands, peel all the hard outer leaves until you reach the softer core.
This is the softer core.  Cut off the pyramid thingy with a knife, or keep peeling the leaves with your hands.... until you reach the choke:
That's the choke, shown in the picture above.  It's an uneatable fuzzy part and needs to be scooped out.  It can be scooped out with a spoon or a small knife, but my favorite way, and one that works faster, is to use a melon baller.
There's the job all done.  Now, with the use of a pairing knife, trim the stem and remove the remnants of the outer leaves from the sides and the bottom. Do you notice that the artichoke heart in the picture looks brownish?  That's because the chlorophyll present in the hearts begins to oxidize or loose its green color when exposed to oxygen.  Another thing that happens is enzymatic browning (the same thing that happens to bananas).  During this process certain enzymes produce melanin when exposed to oxygen. The melanin turns fruits and vegetables brown.  To prevent oxidation you must place the cleaned artichokes in an bath with an acid pH.  Have a bowl of cold water standing by, 10% of which is vinegar or lemon juice.  As soon as the hearts are ready, drop them in this water and leave them there until they are ready to go into the cooking pot. When you add them to the pot, just pull them out of the water bath, but don't use any of the soaking water for cooking. 
So the artichokes are ready and waiting in the water bath.  
Now, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cooking pan. Add the sliced onions and celery and sauté until the onions are soft.  Add the scallions and pearl onions and sauté for a few more minutes.
Add the carrots and the potatoes, and mix.  Season with salt and pepper.  
Add the lemon juice, vegetable or chicken broth, and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat.  Simmer for about 15 minutes.
Add the artichokes and dill. Simmer in the broth for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the vegetables are soft but not mushy.
This is my favorite vegetable broth.  Right after my gastric bypass surgery this was dinner for a whole week.  I thought it was the most delicious tasting thing on earth!  
During the last ten minutes of cooking add the peas.  
Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.  During cooking a lot of the liquid will be absorbed or evaporate.  Make sure it doesn't totally disappear.  If it starts to get low, add more broth or water.  On the other hand, if there is too much liquid left over, you can thicken it with a little flour.
Arrange the vegetables on a serving platter and serve.  I hope you enjoy this lemony, fresh and delicious vegetable recipe with artichokes.  

I am linking this post to Souper Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen. Every Sunday, Deb, from “Kahakai Kitchen” has a round up of contributed posts featuring recipes of soups, salads or sandwiches, and sometimes stews, too.


  1. This looks incredible, Ana! I love artichokes - and what a great combination of flavors. We have a couple of plants with about 9 artichokes on them, so I'll have to try this.

  2. Thank you for this delicious recipe and useful tutorial. Artichokes always seem difficult to deal with. It was good to see the picture of the finished trimmed artichoke. I've tried a similar recipe, and want to tell you that I will be giving yours a go this weekend. I'm a new subscriber and am looking forward to more of your recipes.

  3. Great info about artichokes. Your reciepes are always so flavorful and healthy looking. Enjoy reading, thank you.

  4. This looks so hearty and full of flavor! I need to go buy some fresh artichokes. ;-) Thanks for sharing with Souper Sundays. ;-)

  5. I made this earlier in the month for my father's birthday; he said it was "just like my mother used to make," which is a GIANT compliment. He also said it would be better with lamb, but hey, he's a Greeky-Greek, so you learn to adjust to his curve. Either way, this was dill-icious (oh yes, I did). Thank you for inspiring me to take on fresh artichokes, and for a wonderful meal!