I was introduced to artichokes on my summer vacations to Egypt as a child. My grandmother, sweet as she is, would make a large pot of savory braised artichokes and the accompanying buttery Egyptian white rice at least a few times when we visited. She somehow knew just how much I pined for this dish during the school year, even though I never told her. At the time, bagged frozen artichokes weren’t really a thing yet. If you wanted artichokes, you had to wait till they were in season, buy them fresh, and prepare them by hand. They weren’t available frozen in Bahrain where I grew up, or even if they were, I don’t think we ever made them. So every time Teta made artichokes on summer vacation, I overate. Some people can’t help but overeat pizza or ice cream; in my case, it’s buttery white rice and artichokes that I can’t turn down. If escalope panée (biftek) is served with it, I might just have to loosen my belt.
Here’s the thing: it’s no secret that artichokes are a pain to prepare and eat. Their very design — prickly on the top with the fleshy edible heart deeply embedded under spiked leaves and a “choke” that can clog your throat if swallowed — is highly discouraging for anyone who is too busy to cook or who is even a bit hungry. Who is going to spend time picking out all the leaves, risking mini-scratches, only to find a bite or two of edibleness? Luckily for us in the twenty-first century, we have access to frozen artichoke hearts that are almost as good as the fresh. I know for a fact Trader Joe’s has them if you live in the States. I get mine from a Middle Eastern store in Northern Virginia. If you live in the Middle East, you will surely find frozen artichoke hearts in your local grocery store, next to the frozen molokhia, okra, peas, and green beans — it’s pretty much a staple there. Check the ingredients on the frozen bags; you’ll want to see only one ingredient on there: artichokes. Also, don’t even think about using the canned variety; it’s mushy when cooked and has an odd flavor, probably from the preservatives in the can.
If you’re feeling adventurous (and extra patient), you can also prepare fresh artichoke hearts for this recipe, though I wouldn’t recommend it because it’s a waste of the leaves — which are perfectly good for steaming, dipping into a lemon-butter sauce and chewing off the little bit of edibleness with your teeth. However, if you’re so inclined, take a look at this step-by-step article or this video tutorial for preparing artichokes from scratch. For this recipe, I typically buy the frozen hearts. I only get the fresh artichokes when they’re in season and when I’m prepared for a leisurely dinner of dipping and chewing on the leaves.
Honestly, if it weren’t for my grandma’s patience, I may have never started my love affair with artichokes, which are known as kharshuf in Arabic (alternate spellings include kharchuf, kharshouf, kharchouf). The Arabic name for artichokes means “thorny plant”, in reference to the spiky leaves. Globe artichokes originally grew in the wild in North Africa, but the cultivated variety was introduced by the Romans when they occupied Egypt and parts of North Africa in 30 BC. Nowadays, artichokes are grown all over the world, but Egypt remains one of the top producers and exporters of artichokes. In the late winter and early spring, when artichokes are in season in Egypt, Teta would buy large quantities, spending hours at a time removing the leaves, soaking in lemon water, then portioning and freezing the artichoke hearts in bags. That way, come summertime, when I would visit, she would bring out the bags and prepare some of my favorite meals.
Rarely have I had anything with artichokes that I’ve disliked. Teta used to make the Egyptian artichoke classics — these simple braised artichokes, artichokes stuffed with ground beef and béchamel sauce, artichokes stewed with meat cubes and tomato sauce — I liked them all. This recipe I’m sharing here is for the simplest of the Egyptian artichoke recipes I know. It doesn’t require making a roux or getting the hearts to sit in a pretty row for baking. It doesn’t even require fresh artichokes since the frozen hearts work perfectly well when braised. It’s a matter of gathering the 3 main ingredients (artichokes, homemade broth, and onion), your cooking fat of choice (clarified butter is perfect for this), and salt and pepper, and waiting for it to cook for about 30 minutes. As many of our readers know, we are sticklers when it comes to using homemade broth made from scratch. It takes a little forethought, but the end result is far tastier, and way more nutritious than any liquid you get canned and preserved from the store. This recipe for homemade bone broth works well in this meal.
Meanwhile, you’ll cook the rice. I like using short-grain Egyptian white rice; sushi rice is a good substitute (I love this brand, grown in California). I rinse and soak the rice for an hour with a tablespoon of vinegar. Then, I add broth, milk or water (or a combination) to the rice, a good amount of clarified butter (at least a heaping tablespoon per cup of rice), and salt, and I let it cook for 20 minutes till done. You’re left with a delicious (addictive!) buttery white rice that is the perfect vehicle for soaking up the broth from the braised artichokes.
Braised Artichoke Hearts with Buttery Egyptian Rice (Kharshuf Matbukh bil Roz)
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Keywords: braise entree gluten-free nut-free primal soy-free sugar-free artichoke broth rice Egyptian spring winter summer
Ingredients (Serves 4)
For the Artichokes:
- 12 frozen artichoke hearts (or fresh artichokes trimmed down to the hearts)
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1½ cup homemade broth
- 1 tablespoon clarified butter
- salt and pepper, to taste
For the Egyptian Rice:
- 1 cup Egyptian short-grain white rice (white sushi rice works well as a substitute), soaked in water with a tablespoon of vinegar, then rinsed and drained
- 1¼ cup liquid of choice (you can use water, but I like to use a mixture of milk and broth for extra flavor)
- 1 heaping tablespoon clarified butter
- 1 teaspoon unrefined salt
For the Artichokes:
(1) Chop the onion: Finely dice the onion.
(2) Saute the onion: In a large stainless pot, melt a tablespoon of clarified butter and saute the onion on medium heat till translucent and slightly golden.
(3) Add the artichokes and broth: Add the frozen artichoke hearts to the onions and saute for a few more minutes. Add the broth and turn the heat to high to bring it to a boil.
(4) Leave to cook: Once boiled, lower the temperature to medium-low and leave the artichokes to thaw and cook for about 20-25 minutes checking to make sure they are tender enough to slice through.
(5) Season with salt and pepper and serve atop the buttery cooked rice (simple recipe below).
For the Egyptian Rice:
(1) Soak the rice: Rinse the rice under running water till clear, then cover with water and add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. Leave to soak for at least an hour.
(2) Drain and cook the rice: In a stainless pot, add the drained rice, cover with liquid of choice (I use a mixture of milk and homemade broth), add a heaping tablespoon of clarified butter and a teaspoon of salt. Mix well, cover, and bring to a boil, then lower heat to lowest setting and leave covered to cook. This will take about 20 minutes. You can leave just a few minutes longer so the rice at the bottom gets golden and crispy (it’s irresistible when it gets this way!).