Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
by SuSu, GilArda, MaceVindaloo
Still stunned by the loss of Gandalf to the Balrog of Moria, the Fellowship could think of nothing else upon reaching the haven of Lorien. Even Sam, who served as the cook for the party, could not conjure up much of an appetite, even though he was trying to encourage Frodo to eat.
Legolas had gone out to forage for a particular flower. Sam wondered if this was some sort of Elven tradition for funerals, because the flowers weren't exactly pretty. As a gardener, he recognized that they were a thistle, but figured maybe it represented death, even though thistles are weeds to him.
So, he was aghast when Legolas started trimming the flowers, making them even uglier. Then he dropped them in boiling oil! "Oy! You expect to be feeding someone thistles? You elves sure do eat odd things."
Legolas didn't bother explaining this was a mourning dish. His father's court at Mirkwood, unfortunately, had many occasions to serve it for the death of warriors. He didn't tell Sam that these thistles were called artichokes, or "chokes" because they represented the bitterness of a good warrior's passing from this life, and the feel of the tears as they welled up through one's spirit.
He was, however, nice enough to let Sam help with the cleaning and preparations, so that after the Hobbit tasted this traditional preparation, he could explain to his fellow hobbit, "Mr. Frodo, I know they look right strange, but they're as nice as 'taters fried up in a good bit of oil. C'mon, try some ... foreign food isn't all bad when its cooked properly like a good 'tater!"
Be careful when handling the artichokes; the tips of the flower have a thorn, as it really is a thistle. Also, beware that artichokes can have a worm. If you encounter one, throw it away; or if the damage isn't extensive, you can choose to trim away the bad bits. It's okay to buy them when they look somewhat "past it" meaning the leaves look frostbitten or rusty. you'll be trimming that part away.
Preparing your 'chokes: Trimming and Cleaning
Have a big container of cold water available with the juice of one lemon or a few tablespoons of vinegar mixed into it.
Start by pulling off the outer leaves, but do so carefully. Pull the leaf and bend it downward, folding it backwards, so that the leave snaps in the lower third. The edible part of the 'choke leaf is actually a fleshy nub at the base of each leaf. By snapping it this way, you'll remove the tough threads; peel it broken leaf downwards, leaving behind that fleshy bit. Do this for several rows, as high up as you'd like. (The more you outer leaves snap that way, the more tough fibrous stuff you're getting rid of.)
Cut about a third of the 'choke off the top and throw that away. Trim the stalk and peel off the skin. Cut the choke in half, from base to top. Dip the whole 'choke in the acidulated water to prevent the exposed flesh from browning.
Using a paring knife and spoon, dig into the base / heart of the artichoke and remove the hairy, fibrous, purply choke these are absolutely inedible and need to be removed. Dig it out and scrape to make sure all the fine hairs are gone. Drop into the acidulated water bath and leave it there while you prefer the rest of the artichokes. Then cut the cleaned artichokes into quarters or eighths if they are large. You can leave them as halves if they are small. Dip again into the acidulated water bath.
When done, lift the cleaned 'chokes onto paper towels and wipe them as dry as you can.
In a large pot, fill with a mixture of vegetable and olive oil to about 1/3 full. The oil will boil and expand a lot, so you don't want it more than a third full. Heat the oil over medium heat. Use a candy or frying thermometer to let you know the temperature is 350°F / 175°C (do not touch the probe to the bottom or sides of the pan, or you'll get a false reading.)
Carefully place an artichoke into the oil; the safest way is to put it on a slotted spoon and lower it carefully and slowly into the hot oil, one at a time. Do not crowd the pan this medium saucepan holds less than one artichoke worth. These cook quickly, so don't rush it, and do this in batches.
Cook till golden brown and drain on paper towels or on a rack. Salt immediately while hot and serve while warm.
(Serve in a folded white napkin for a beautiful presentation, with a wedge of lemon.)
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