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Spring Produce Primer

Everything You Need to Know About Cardoons

© Julian Eales / Alamy

Spring is the prime time for many prized, ultra-seasonal herbs, vegetables and legumes. Before you head out to the farmers' market, let us prep you on how to buy and cook these obsessed-over items.

A cardoon sounds like a medieval article of clothing, but it's actually a thistle-like plant related to the artichoke. While it does grow a spherical artichoke-esque bulb, the cardoon's stalks are its tastiest parts and well worth the potential prickles (remember, they’re in the thistle family). Though cardoons were popular in ancient Greek, Roman and Persian cooking, in the late 19th century, the vegetable suddenly fell out of fashion. It’s time to bring it back.

Where: Cardoons require a large amount of space to grow—they can get up to six feet wide and five feet tall—and they have a long, cool growing season. They thrive in coastal areas like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

When: December through May.

What to look for: When trimmed of its leaves and bulb, the cardoon plant looks like a giant celery. Look for firm, pale green stalks.

Flavor profile: Somewhere between an artichoke, celery and salsify.

Health benefits: The low-calorie vegetable has high levels of folic acid and could help lower cholesterol. It is also used as a vegetarian source of enzymes in cheesemaking.

How to eat them: In order to avoid irritation from the plant’s prickles, make sure to wear gloves during preparation. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the tough outer strings of the cardoon ribs. Place the peeled ribs in a bowl of lemon water or vinegar water (much like their artichoke cousins, they will brown in the open air). The stalks are delicious steamed if they are young and tender; if mature, they're great served in a soup or bright stew or dredged in cheesy bread crumbs and fried until crisp.

Related: 31 Recipes for Spring Produce
Fantastic Spring Soups
Everything You Need to Know About Dandelion Greens

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