With its attractive, leafy globe, potent mix of antioxidants, and California connection the artichoke is king among spring vegetables at Santa Monica farmers markets.

“The main thing is they’re delicious,” said Roberto Hernandez with Suncoast Farms, which is selling mature and baby artichokes by the box or the basket at the Wednesday Downtown and Sunday Main Street farmers markets. He says wholesalers and restaurants are already demanding more artichokes than they can provide, picking up dozens of boxes each week.

The 2,000-acre farm started picking baby artichokes in April and hopes to have them for months to come. Hernandez says artichokes can technically grow year-round but are most dependable in Southern California April through October.

They may look intimidating but mostly require patience, rather than skill, to cook. Steaming or boiling a large artichoke can take about 45 minutes. It’s done when a fork easily pierces the stem. The California Artichoke Advisory Board offers the first five steps to get you started: wash in cold running water, pull off small or discolored outer leaves, cut stem close to base, chop off the top quarter and plunge into cold lemon water to preserve the pretty green color during cooking.

Once it’s cooked, eating an artichoke can be time-consuming as well. First, tear off each leaf one by one to scrape the meat. Once the petals are removed, spoon out the fuzzy center at the base and discard. The heart underneath is the most delicious part.

The process may be the reason the state authority on artichokes chose “life is short, stop and eat the artichokes” as its slogan. The Mediterranean native became California’s official vegetable in 2013. Nearly 100 percent of artichokes eaten in the United States come from California.

Hernandez of Suncoast likes the baby versions, which are sold in groups of threes and fours for a few dollars. Because they contain only a few layers of leaves, they can be steamed much faster or pruned before sauteing the edible insides.

There’s plenty of reasons to try an artichoke if you’ve held off in the past – they are the number one vegetable in antioxidant count, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They are rich in the phytonutrients Cynarin and Silymarin, which are associated with a healthy liver. The edible portion of an entire artichoke is just 25 calories – just go easy on the aioli.

Santa Monica has four weekly farmers markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Kate@www.smdp.com

 

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press