On my way home from work a few Wednesdays ago, a truck from a nearby farmer’s market was parked on the highway’s shoulder, blocking my view for a left turn. I grumbled as I edged forward into opposing traffic, blind on my left. Thanks to forgiving drivers on both sides of the highway, I completed the turn. As I sped away, I turned to look at the truck that had caused me the trouble and found it was filled with spring artichokes, giant evergreen spades ready to tumble out of the open back. Spring had arrived.
I drove home thinking about recipes for artichokes and considered making Spinach Artichoke Dip. But I wanted something a little lighter and spring-like. I remembered this recipe, healthy Artichokes a la Polita, a dish I’d first tried at Spyros’ Aunt’s house one cold February evening my first year back to Greece. I had been sick with a deep, bronchial cough and sore throat. I swallowed a spoonful of the creamy avgolemono dotted with peas. The acid from lemons and artichokes revived me and the peas soothed my throat. To an ill person, such food is alchemy and I whispered my thoughts to Spyros. Ever since, I’ve wanted to make Artichokes a la Polita on my own. Here was my chance.
‘A la Polita’ means in the style of the city and when Greeks speak of ‘the city’ they refer to Constantinople. It is likely, then, that this dish (and others so named) originated there. I found a recipe for classic Artichokes a la Polita in Vefa Alexiadou’s Greek Cuisine and adapted it slightly. Since I like the dish a little on the brothy side, I nixed the original potatoes and increased the peas for sweetness and heft. I also reduced the dill, my personal taste.
Since cleaning fresh artichokes was a bit involved for the amount of time I had, I made it with frozen artichoke hearts (I know, fresh artichokes inspired the dish but…but…) and I’m very glad I did. With no peeling, removing the corn silk-like interior fibers, or soaking in lemon juice, my vegetarian dinner was ready in about half an hour with no oxidation marks. As the dish simmered, the kitchen smelled clean, like lemon.
When it was ready, I tasted a spoonful of the sauce. It was tart but sweet, well-balanced. That evening I served Artichokes a la Polita over brown rice for dinner. The artichokes were hearty and absorbed their lemony, lightly creamy sauce. It was a filling but not overwhelming spring dinner. Spyros and I ate it in front of our dining room window as the sky turned deep violet. We chatted happy that, for the next four months, the sun would be our companion at dinnertime. Spring.
*You’ll find that the lemon juice makes all the difference in this recipe. Use the freshest, tastiest lemon juice you can find. Artichokes a la Polita are tasty over rice for a vegetarian main meal. You could also serve it as a side dish next to roast chicken or lamb.
Artichokes a la Polita
1 14 oz. package frozen artichoke hearts
¾ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced
2 large carrots, finely sliced
¾ cup frozen peas
¼ cup fresh dill, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
- In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and spring onions and sauté lightly until golden and soft. Add the carrot and cook until slightly soft.
- Stir in the artichokes, peas, dill, salt, pepper, and a cup of hot water. Lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer until the artichokes have softened and have absorbed some of the sauce, about 30 minutes. Add additional water, if the mixture becomes too dry.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and the lemon juice. Slowly, pour a ladle of hot broth from the artichokes into the bowl and stir. Repeat, then pour the egg-lemon mixture into the artichokes. Stir until the avgolemono has been well-incorporated into the dish. Remove the pan from the heat and serve.