Come to think of it, since I didn't know the Vietnamese word for artichoke at the time, I'm not sure ba noi knew what we were taking home. But by the time the artichoke was ripe, ba noi was off traveling somewhere, either China or Vietnam, or most likely in Oregon visiting my folks and second-youngest aunt.
So my youngest aunt took over watering the garden and noticed when the artichoke was ready to eat.
"The atiso is really big now," Youngest aunt said. "Why don't you cut it?"
I looked at her blankly?
"Atiso," she said again.
Huh? Really! Huh?!
"You bought it, don't you want to see what it tastes like?"
I said I had no idea what an atiso was, much less did I remember buying it, but did auntie know the English word for it?
"But I am speaking English! Atiso! Atiso!" I looked over at my uncle for guidance. "Artichoke." A ti so = Ar ti cho (ke) Hehe. I chuckled thinking my aunt was mangling English again. Well, lo and behold, years later, I'm in Vietnam and what do I see? Signs everywhere advertising tra atiso (Vietnamese artichoke tea). Apparently it wasn't just a ba noi invention but an actual Vietnamese herbal tea. It's even mentioned in this Wikipedia article on artichokes.
Tra Atiso (Vietnamese Artichoke Tea)
Ba noi's artichoke tea was pretty simple. In a big pot, she'd simply boil several artichokes with several chunks of sugarcane from the backyard. (Yup, she grew her own sugarcane.) Let it simmer for about half an hour to pull as much flavor from the artichoke as possible. You can drink it hot or cold. I'd liken it to barley tea with its slightly vegetal taste.
If you aren't fortunate enough to grow your own sugarcane, I guess you could use a tablespoon or so of regular sugar. You don't want it to taste too sweet. Afterall, it is supposed to be an herbal tea. Afterward, you can eat the leaves and the heart of the artichoke. And in Googling artichoke tea, I found claims the health benefits of artichoke tea are that it aids digestion, benefits the liver, and lowers cholesterol. My other preferred method of eating them is by roasting artichokes with chili aioli.
Roasted Artichokes with Chili Aioli
For roasted artichokes, you'll need:
Artichokes, however many you want to eat
1/2 lemon, juiced
A few drizzles of olive oil
A few dashes of salt
A few cranks of freshly ground black pepper
For chili aioli, you'll need:
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 clove garlic
1 dried chili pod
1/4 tsp salt, or more to taste
2 tblsp mayonnaise
1/4 tsp anchovy paste, or more to taste
My recipe is a take on the roasted artichoke appetizer I enjoyed at Bandera American Cooking in Chicago. I can't recall the exact way it tasted, I just remember a large roasted artichoke with some kind of dipping sauce (I think it was just ranch dressing.). It was a lovely prelude to a nice steak with a side of jalapeno corn bread. Yum! (I can't vouch for any other locations, and it's been several years, but the Chicago Bandera had live jazz on weekend nights and a pretty lively atmosphere. Almost everything was cooked over open flames so the artichokes probably were too.)
I realize these aren't the best-looking artichokes you've ever seen. But they were only 5 for 99 cents in the vegetable clearance bin at the grocery store!
There are many methods of preparing artichokes. The one I use is to cut the stem so about an inch remains, trim outer leaves that are dried out by plucking them off, cut about an inch or so at the top where it's thorny, cut in half, then scoop out the fuzzy "choke" in the center. You'll be left with something like this.
Immediately immerse it in very salty water, or water with lemon juice added, to keep the artichoke from turning brown. As you can see, it's already turning brown just from the trimming. The artichoke will release a lot of brown mucous, sort of like what eggplant does, so you'll want to get rid of it by soaking anyway.
When all the artichokes have been prepared, give it a quick rinse, and steam or boil for about half an hour or until tender. Then place the tender artichokes on an oven-safe dish. Drizzle olive oil, a few cranks of freshly ground black pepper, a few dashes of salt, and the juice of half a lemon or lime.
Put in the oven at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or so, or until the leaves start to char.
While the artichokes are baking, prepare the chili aioli. Aioli is simply garlic mayonnaise. You can try making your own with raw egg, garlic, and olive oil. It's a bit laborious to do it with a mortar and pestle, and the food processor method doesn't achieve as desirable a result. I've found it simpler to add the ingredients to mayonnaise.
So with a mortar and pestle, grind 1 clove of garlic, 1 dried chili pod, and 1/4 tsp salt until a paste is formed. Add a few squirts of anchovy paste about 1/4 tsp, the juice of the other half of the lemon, and a few tablespoons of mayonnaise. Mix thoroughly and adjust seasonings if necessary.
To eat, simply pluck one of the outer leaves and dip into the aioli, scrapping your teeth to get the meaty part of the artichoke leaf. When the leaves are gone, dunk the artichoke heart into the aioli as well. I even eat the stems. Actually, I eat all of the tender leaves in the middle as well.