Artichokes. Commonly found pulverized and unrecognizable in the form of “artichoke dip” at many chain restaurants, this type of appetizer spells doom, or at least major discomfort for those who are lactose intolerant. With ingredients of butter, flour, sour cream, cheese, and heavy cream it’s no wonder why this fattening disguise for an artichoke has become so popular. It would make an interesting survey to see what percentage of fans of the dip actual know what a whole artichoke looks like. I don’t think they’re ordering it to count as a daily serving of vegetables. Then again, some may classify it as such just as the Reagan administrative proposed to reclassify ketchup as a vegetable.

Lactose intolerant or not, there are much tastier and healthier ways to eat an artichoke that highlight the vegetable rather than mask it.

The easiest method is to stock your pantry with jarred artichoke hearts, packed in water or oil. These can be used in a pinch to invigorate a salad or pizza.

Need to take your personal relationship to the next level? Look no further. Steam a fresh artichoke for that special someone. Sharing one is a tactile and sensual experience. The protective nature of the artichoke forces you to take your time. You’ll have to work for each tiny morsel. As you peel off layer after layer, yielding ever-tender bites, your fingers might entangle with your dining companion. The flesh is soft and moist. You may get messy, having to lick the oily juices off your fingers. But it’s worth the reward.

As you near the center, you’ll face the final barrier to the heart – a cone of immature prickly purple leaves and the choke (thistle), which is not edible. Some call to remove these prior to cooking. I like leaving in a challenge. In fact, all you need to get to the heart is a knife and a twist of the wrist. For those who have only ever sampled ‘chokes in a jar, a fresh heart is meatier yet more delicate.

When you’re finished eating, you’ll know. You may feel dreamy and dazed yet satisfied. Discarded leaves, scraped with teeth marks, will be scattered about. You might not remember every bite but you’ll know you had a good time.

There are many ways people eat steamed artichokes. Some dip the leaves in mayonnaise, hollandaise, or aioli. Not good for your cholesterol or if you can’t eat eggs. One Italian style is to stuff the artichoke with breadcrumbs. I recently made a batch with gluten-free bread and the taste was indistinguishable to a wheat-based stuffing. Check out the recipe. A common method is to dunk the leaves in melted butter. Lactose-intolerant? Fa-getta-bout-it.

Since I’ve been off gluten and dairy for almost a year, it seems as if my taste buds have changed. I don’t crave the fatty flavors mentioned above. Recently, I’ve been simply steaming the artichokes and dipping each bite in a wonderfully rich and grassy extra virgin olive oil from California Olive Ranch, to which I add a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, red pepper flakes and some dried Italian herbs. Serving it this way is dairy and gluten-free and also SCD compliant.

How do you prepare artichokes?