I remember what we were wearing the first time we met. She was in a green dress and I was wearing capris with a sleeveless top. We were the two odd ones in a room full of half-saris and long skirts at the admission hall of my new high school in Coimbatore. She was tall, beautiful with big almond eyes, a bright infectious smile, and two pigtails. She and I said something together in English, our words clashing and disappearing in the loud chatter of Tamil around the room. We laughed and  walked out together and she said “I am Geetha.” Little did I know the huge imprint she would leave in my heart.

We took the same courses—from National Cadet Corps. to French, basketball, and track—and soon we became the inseparable duo. High school passed and we continued as college mates and roommates.

Geetha was a farm girl from Ooty. She would say that her soul was in that soil. Our nutrition course in college required a paper on a vegetable of our choice. She picked artichokes and I picked mushrooms.

In those days artichokes and mushrooms were rarely used in Indian cooking. We  hit up all the libraries in town for articles and books to read for research. There were many moments when we wanted to give up on the vegetables we had chosen. We considered okra and eggplant, but then we wanted to be different from the crowd.

Many Friday evenings, during that time, we caught the 6 p.m. bus to Ooty on our way to her farm. Together, we picked artichokes and mushrooms to begin recipe testing. We grilled, ground, boiled, and fried, all the while discussing our lives, and longings. We had big dreams and aspirations, but destiny had other plans for her. Exactly a year ago, she left this world to permanently belong to her soil in Ooty. Here’s to my dear friend, my Artichoke Girl.

Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer, media talent and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team building classes through cooking for tech companies in the bay area. You can reach her at praba@cookingmastery.com.

 


At the Heart of Artichokes

 Ode to the Artichoke
by Pablo Neruda

The artichoke

With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained
Unshakeable,
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Uncurled
Their tendrils and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil …

 Chilled Artichoke Soup
This chilled soup is a hearty soup for a hot summer day.

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Ingredients
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 small onion minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 can artichoke hearts drained and rinsed
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh chives to garnish

Method
Heat oil in a sauce pan and add  the garlic and onions. Saute for a few minutes until translucent and then add the artichoke hearts and vegetable broth. Puree this mixture in a blender with lemon juice and add it back to the sauce pan and warm it. Remove, let it cool, check seasonings and refrigerate.  If it thickens, add a little water to loosen. Serve it with sprinkles of chives.

Artichoke Pakoras

Ingredients
1 can of artichoke hearts drained and rinsed

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For the batter:
½ cup chickpea flour
1 tsp cayenne powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp amchur (mango) powder
1 tsp cumin powder
Salt to taste
¼ cup fresh cilantro stems minced
Water to mix into a batter
Oil for frying

Method
Mix the batter with water and set aside. Heat oil in a fryer to 350 degrees. Chop the artichoke hearts into half. Dip each piece in the batter and fry until it is crispy and golden in color. Remove and serve hot with  chutney, ketchup or dip.

Spicy Artichoke Chutney

Ingredients
1 tbsp oil
2 shallots chopped
3 garlic cloves chopped
1 jalapeno chopped
1 tomato chopped
5 -6 curry leaves
Salt to taste
½ can artichoke hearts drained and rinsed

For tempering:
1 tsp oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp urad dal
Curry leaves

Method
Heat oil in a small pan and saute the onions, garlic, jalapeno, tomato and curry leaves. Then add the artichoke hearts and sauté for a few minutes. Remove and grind the mixture  to a smooth chutney. Heat oil in another pan, add the mustard seeds and once it splutters, add the urad dal and curry leaves. Remove and add it to the chutney and serve.

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