Artichokes always appear to me to resemble old medieval relics discovered by archaeologists somewhere. They almost look like vegetable versions of a knights armour, having staved off generations of war with their layered skins. So historic looking, I can imagine them sitting on a large wooden table in the cool dark kitchen of a castle surrounded by cooks preparing a banquet for the king of some forgotten province.

I probably look to the artichoke in such a way because I had very few encounters with the artichoke other than the preserved kind, when growing up. I had and no experience with them in their full natural glory and I don’t recall them being readily available for that matter. They certainly weren’t seen in your local North London Sainsbury’s during the 80’s. Then again my Mum always opted for the green grocer when it came to fruits and vegetables and I still can’t conjure up any memories of them being available there. Yet everyone seems to have fond recollections of enjoying tearing off the cooked leaves of an artichoke and eating their fleshy goods. I did happen to notice, on my recent visit to London, that artichokes are now available by the dozen practically everywhere.

My vast curiosity with the impressive artichoke kept me intimidated to cook with it until this summer. I made sure to confidently drop a few into my grocery bag and then hurriedly returned home to follow a youtube video of how to cut out artichoke hearts. I managed with great success (it is extremely straight forward).

I received Poopa Dwek’s cookbook, Aroma’s of Aleppo as a birthday gift from my sister and brother-in-law, a truly special book that recounts the recipes and the story of the Syrian Jews of Aleppo. Flicking through the beautiful pages of the book I came across a stuffed artichoke recipe and instantly knew it was the first recipe to be sampled. And what a recipe it is.

There are few ingredients that make up this dish with no reason for more. The rich nutty flavour of the artichoke together with the minced beef does a good enough job alone and given a small helping hand of some allspice and lemon juice, a Syrian prerequisite, together with a basic tomato sauce this recipe becomes an unforgettable treat. At first glance it appears exotic and exquisite but once delving into the layers of artichoke, meat and tomatoes, the rustic down-to-earth qualities surface and result in a dish of true comfort, no intimidation’s and steeped in its own history.

Syrian Stuffed Artichokes
From Poopa Dwek’s cookbook; Aroma’s of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews

Yield: 8 – 10 servings

* 6 artichokes

* 1 pound ground beef
* 2 eggs
* 1 tsp ground allspice
* 1 tsp salt
* 1 cup matzah meal (or breadcrumbs)
* 1 cup vegetable oil

* 2, 8 ounce cans tomato sauce
* Juice of 2 lemons
* 1 tsp sugar
* 1 tsp salt

1. Cut artichokes in half lengthwise, remove the furry choke and trim 1 inch of leaves from the top.
2. Make the filling: Combine beef, 1 egg, allspice and salt in a medium mixing bowl and mix well. Fill each artichoke with the filling.
3. Put the remaining egg in a shallow dish and beat it. Put the matzah meal in another bowl. Dip each artichoke in egg and then matzah meal.
4. Heat vegetable oil in a medium skillet over a medium heat. Fry the artichokes, filling side down, for two minutes, or until the breading is golden. Now place the artichokes in a large saucepan or deep skillet in a single layer* and filling-side up. Do not stack.
5. Prepare the sauce: Combine the tomatoes, lemon juice, sugar, salt and 1 cup of water. Mix well.
6. Drizzle olive in the pan with the artichokes and sprinkle salt over the artichokes. Cook over a medium heat for three minutes or until the artichokes begin to sweat. Pour the sauce into pan and bring to a boil over a high heat. Reduce heat to low and cover and simmer for a further thirty minutes or until the artichoke hearts are fork tender.

* I prepared everything in one large Le Creuset pan from the beginning of the recipe and throughout.

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