by Sarah on April 9, 2009

Cynara cardunculus

I was surfing the web to find the English name of what in Israel is known as harshaf or harshoof and found fascinating information about this lesser known relative of the artichoke. Perhaps the most interesting is that Mario Batali, world renowned chef, no less, thinks that the cardoon has a very sexy flavor. I raised my eyebrows at that, what exactly was he referring to? And what, I wonder, would the old Moroccan ladies at the shuk say about that?

I am embarrassed to say that I was ignorant of this sexy vegetable up until a few weeks ago when I took a trip with my mother to the Carmel Shuk of Tel Aviv. One merchant was selling the biggest celery I ever saw and when I commented about it he said,
“That’s not celery! That’s Harshaf (he called them wild artichoke) and the Moroccans love them.”

Of course I bought it even if I had no idea what to do with it. When I came home I did a little background check on it and found out that it is predicted to be the next exclusive gourmet vegetable. Exciting information indeed! Although I am sure if I told this to the other women buying it they would roll their eyes and say, “Exclusive? Oh really, I have been eating this all my life.” Even so, a few weeks passed before I found a good recipe but by then my poor cardoon turned into a different life form.
The artichoke was domesticated in Sicily during Roman times, while the cardoon in the Western Mediterranean at a later date from the same wild progenitor. In ancient times the Arabs, with their advance knowledge of agriculture, introduced and dispersed many crops, including the artichoke throughout the Mediterranean. Now both the cardoon and artichoke are popular in Italy, North Africa, Spain and the Provence, France. It has been described as having a smoky and as I mentioned a sexy flavor. I am lacking in wine and cheese creative jargon and can only say that to me it tastes very artichokey. It can take all morning to remove the fibrous and stringy parts of the stem to make it edible and this is the main reason why it is not more popular. It is also a very particular crop, prone to frost which causes it to become bitter.

Besides the edible stems, from early times and even now in some places in Portugal and Italy the cardoon flowers are used as a source of vegetable rennet for making special cheeses. Indeed this rennet has been found highly similar in composition to the more traditional calf rennet but the cheese made with cardoon rennet is softer, creamier and less bitter. In addition cardoon leaves are a rich source of antioxidants.

I decided on a Spanish recipe of stuffed cardoons (cadros-meat stuffed cardoons in a lemon sauce) which was a long and tedious affair and I wish I could say that after hours of prepping it was an extraordinary dish. Although it was tasty, this way of preparing it didn’t bring out the cardoon’s full delicate flavor even with just a lemon sauce. Evelyne, my Tunisian neighbor, says that her mother usually stews it with meat and this is the way Moroccans and the Spanish prepare it. There are many similarities in Spanish and North African dishes which stem from their common history. I can’t say that my first taste of cardoon was sexy, but I am sure that if Mario Batali made it for me I would have a different opinion altogether.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Ames August 27, 2009 at 2:26 am

Hi, I’m interested in finding a good explanation on how to prepare the flowers of cardoon for use as rennet to make cheese, can anyone help me. Here in Somerset UK we are growing cardoon and artichokes for the local restaurants……


admin September 9, 2009 at 8:32 pm

I checked out a few scientific articles and this is what I came up with. I would contact the authors because I myself never made cardoon rennet cheese. If you unearth anything else I would be happy to learn.

Isolation and partial characterization of rennet-like proteases from Australian cardoon (Cynara cardunculus L.).Chen S, Zhao J, Agboola S.
School of Wine and Food Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2678, Australia.
Formation of bitter peptides during ripening of ovine milk cheese made with different coagulants
Samson Agboola, Shaojiang Chen and Jian Zhao

School of Wine and Food Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Locked Bag 588, Wagga Wagga NSW, Australia

Corresponding author: Jian Zhao


samy chabbi January 2, 2010 at 11:17 am

One of my favorite dishes with cardoon vegetables is making it in tagine format with lamb or beef stewed with preserved lemon, fresh ginger, olives and safron spice. It is also one of the vegetables that gets better when it is “overcooked” (No al dente here) and is sof to the bite….should u need a recipe let me know!


Sarah January 2, 2010 at 11:22 am

Samy, I am always happy for a recipe :-). My Tunisian neighbor also told me that she cooks it like a stew/tagine with lamb or beef. Cardoons are in season now and I saw them at the Ramla Shuk, about time I tried another recipe.


Paul Davies December 12, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Hi Iam new to this but I would just like to say how nice it is that people will swop recipes on a simple links like this one. So when / if my Cardoon plant grows I’ll know where to come. I don’t know if the plant is a strong grower because I had to dig it out of someones alotment (They gave it away on “StevenageFreegale web site). I pride my self on the fact that 95% of all plants & materilas including the picket fencing, block paving, the edging for the beds (Laylandy tree trunks) & edging stones have all been aquired from hedges & woodland in my local area. The only thing I’ve had to by is a one edging stone to stand the shed on, one two ft square slab for the water but & a bag of concreat, Our garden is 14ft by 20ft


Sarah December 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Good luck with your new cardoon plant. Was just back from the green grocer and was happy to see he is already selling cardoon, very early in the season.


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