Fave Healthy Food Hack: Artichoke Hearts
Is it too punny to say they should be called heartachokes because I love them so much? These armored little veggies are near and dear to me because I associate them with wonderful childhood memories. (Awwww!) Plus, they are fun to eat and taste yummy.
As a kid—and even now, when I have time—my family steamed whole artichokes and made a few different dipping sauces. It was a delightful meal event to gather à table and peel and eat the leaves. It took a while to develop good bract-scraping technique, to maximize the amount of goodness you got with each petal...but I was a champ. (Practice makes perfect!) Eventually, we'd get to the fuzzy choke, which my dad would scoop out with a teaspoon. My mom and I eagerly awaited our share of the heart.
Now, though, I don't have time for slow procurement of my artichokes, or they aren't in season. So, I love that one can go to the local supermarket or online grocery store and find fresh, frozen, canned or jarred artichokes. And they come in so many different and wonderful preparations—pickled, marinated, grilled, etc.—as well as lovely plain morsels.
In the spirit of trying to streamline my food choices, I prefer artichoke hearts that are either frozen with nothing on them or packed in water. And nine times out of ten, my go-to is the canned variety. Which is great because it means I can handily keep them in my cupboard year-round.
Anyway, it's precisely this convenience-factor that induced me to start using artichoke hearts as a hack in my overhauled food routine. I was staring at a can of these guys one day when inspiration struck—serendipity!
Why Hack Food?
Let's take a quick half-step back. Why was I re-engineering my diet? Why would one want to hack their food?
Everyone's looking for ways to boost their health and wellness, myself included. It's said that food can be your pharmacy (both preventative and curative) and that 70% of weight loss is tied to diet. I was hoping to lose weight, improve some of my health markers and just generally enhance my overall well-being.
However, it's really hard to make changes, especially if you perceive that you're losing something you love (like foods that make your taste buds swoon) in the exchange. When you feel like you're being deprived, it's harder to hold fast to your new, better-for-you path. I am no stranger to this struggle! Anyone else feeling this, too?
So it's a total life-changer when you come across a food hack that is a win-win. Your brain gets the sensory warm fuzzies it craves while your body is getting all the TLC it needs to thrive. Even better is when that food hack is a powerhouse like artichoke hearts: one that's cheap, seamless to integrate, versatile, tasty and healthy!
Benefits of Artichokes
Artichokes are an awesome and versatile vegetable. A member of the thistle family, they are widely available. Artichokes are incredibly nutritious while being low in fat. They can have positive impacts on cholesterol, liver and digestive function, blood pressure and blood sugar. It's even thought that some of the compounds in artichokes might inhibit certain.
There are tons of resources out there that delve into how and why artichokes are good for you—I invite you to go down that rabbit hole sometime. It's interesting what one can learn!
Artichoke hearts are in regular rotation in my house. Here are some ways I integrate them:
Add to Mediterranean stir-fries, salads and pasta dishes.
Puree and use in place of cream in soups, sauces, dips and dressings.
Dice into tuna, chicken or egg salad.
Quarter and roast with fingerling potatoes.
Top your pizza or flatbread.
Add to sandwiches and wraps.
Snack on them straight out of the container!
You know that scene in Forrest Gump—the one in which Bubba is enumerating all the things you can do with shrimp? Of course you do.... Basically, substitute "artichokes" for "shrimp" and there you have it.
It's quick and easy to find ways to incorporate artichokes into your regimen. And you don't have to be brilliantly creative, a master chef or drowning in free time.
Recipe: Carmel Valley Pasta Sauce
Ok, so this is somewhat more an exercise in guided inspiration than a bona fide recipe. This is one of those things I cook without a true scientific-like formula and process.
So definitely feel free to finesse the ingredients and process—co-opt it so it's your own! The point is: make it tasty and packed with nutrition without any bad stuff or guilt.
At any rate, the star (artichoke hearts) and supporting cast (sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers and olive oil) of this recipe recall a trip I once took to Carmel Valley in California. It was springtime and there was a gorgeous artichoke farm next to our hotel. (The cook could literally open the window in the kitchen and grab an artichoke off the stalk if he wanted to!) Imagine something totally idyllic and that's what my nostalgic mind's eye is conjuring up, too....
Hopefully, you'll love this sauce and feel slightly, temporarily transported to a warm agro-heaven as well.
1 can Artichoke Hearts (packed in water, NOT oil), drained 💚
1/4 cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes, rough chopped 🍅
1 small Onion, rough chopped 🧅
3-5 cloves Garlic 🧄
1/4 Roasted Red Pepper Spread or 1 whole Roasted Red Pepper 🌶️
Parmesan Cheese (optional) 🧀
Pine Nuts or Sliced Almonds, preferably toasted (optional)
1/4 cup Water, Broth or Unsweetened Almond Milk 🌊
1 tablespoon Olive Oil 🏺
1 tablespoon Dried Parsley 🌿
Salt/Pepper, to taste 🧂
Gently squeeze the excess liquid out of the Artichoke Hearts.
In a high-speed blender, add the Artichoke Hearts, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Onion, Garlic, and Roasted Red Pepper. Add in the Parmesan Cheese and/or Almonds/Pine Nuts if you're opting those in. Blend until pureed. If you have trouble getting it to blend, slowly add a bit of liquid (i.e., the Water, Broth or Unsweetened Almond Milk), perhaps a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is able to blend. You don't want to add too much liquid as you want a nice thick sauce with a highly concentrated flavor and that's going to stick to your pasta.
In a large skillet on medium heat, add the Olive Oil.
When the Olive Oil is hot and shiny, add the blender mixture to the pan. Stir in the Parsley, Salt and Pepper—and any other seasonings you'd like.
Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring periodically for even heating and to prevent any sticking to the skillet. The goal of this step is threefold: caramelize the raw onion and garlic a tad so they're a little tamer, thicken the sauce as needed and heat it up (duh!).
I add this sauce to grilled chicken strips and penne pasta, and serve with steamed broccoli (and occasionally a glass of wine!). It's a winner all around.
You could combine this sauce with a pound of lean ground turkey for a delicious meat sauce. Or mix it in with your ratatouille. Or use it as a sandwich spread. Get creative! Have some fun with this zingy sauce that will evoke daydreams of a relaxing afternoon in the sunny California countryside.
Why do you love artichokes? What are some ways you incorporate artichoke hearts into your diet? How will you use this sauce, or make it your own?
More broadly, what are your favorite healthy food hacks? Why do you hack your food? What benefits have you realized as a result of creatively, thoughtfully and healthfully tweaking your diet?
Serve up your ideas family style so we can all eat up the benefits. Thanks!