Relishing Raw Asparagus
This weekend, my daughter and I had a house blessing ceremony to celebrate moving in to our newly refurbished home. At a recent choir practice, I’d asked my fellow choristers to come sing a sweet old hymn, Bless This House, and then invited the whole congregation to come along, as well as the entire neighborhood, my Friday Tidy and library pals, and any old friend I happened to see last week. They packed the house with cheerful good will and good wishes, and I was extremely grateful to our talented contractor Jorge Hernandez for reinforcing the underpinnings before redoing the floors!
My loving and wise Pastor Dee Eisenhauer blessed the front doorway and each room, including what she declared to be the shrine of the kitchen, blessing the herbs and spices, the food, the pots and pans, the dishes, that all might serve to nourish us and our guests. What a powerful sentiment; may we indeed nourish each other physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually! I hope I can stay awake to that as I cook in this kitchen, taking delight in both the food and in my surroundings. I want to keep holding onto my gratitude for all the hands that went into making this room so bright and cheerful as well as functional and super cute.
As a house warming gift, a former library co-worker brought us a bag of home grown goodies, including young asparagus, huge shallots, and a beautiful, juicy Meyer lemon from her prolific tree (it lives indoors all winter, of course). She reminded me that they were ingredients in a salad I’d devised many years ago, a recipe I’d almost forgotten but happily revised for tonight’s dinner. Asparagus is a huge treat for me because I refuse to buy it out of season. I’d rather do without and look forward to spring asparagus than eat stalks that were grown thousands of miles away, flown up from South America and landing here trailing an enormous carbon shadow…
Fresh asparagus is both delicious and wholesome, packed with vitamins and antioxidants. When the first local produce arrives, grab it. Whether the stalks are thick or thin, there are wonderful ways to use them. Very thick stalks can be carefully peeled (though I find this a bother and prefer the slightly crispy crunch of skin-on asparagus). Like many vegetables, asparagus balances a subtle combination of savory and sweet sub-flavors that can be emphasized by alternating the herbs and spices we use in sauces. For instance, a mild curry dressing with a hint of cinnamon and coriander awakens sweetness, while lemon juice and capers bring out savory qualities.
Raw Asparagus Salads
These astonishing salads are high among my favorite springtime treats. Each offers an enticing variety of flavors and textures, and all can be adapted to accommodate vegan/dairy free eaters by leaving out the cheeses. Letting the salads stand before serving changes the textures, sometimes remarkably, as oil and/or vinegars “cook” the greens and asparagus a bit. You might try tasting some right after mixing, then letting them stand a bit, then tasting again to see which way you prefer these spring delights.
French Raw Asparagus Salad
1 organic lemon, juiced
1/4 cup fruity olive oil
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
Pinch of smoked paprika
1 bunch plump asparagus
1/2 cup coarsely grated Romano cheese
In a jar, combine lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and paprika, shake well to emulsify and taste, adjusting seasonings to get the balance you prefer. Snap asparagus stem ends off and shave the spears into skinny strips (skin and all) with a vegetable peeler. In a serving bowl, combine asparagus and dressing, toss with cheese and serve. Serves 2-4.
Italian Raw Asparagus & Mushroom Salad
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/3 cup fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon capers
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch plump asparagus
4 mushrooms (your favorite), halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian (flat) parsley
1/4 cup coarsely grated Pecorino cheese
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts
In a jar, combine lemon juice and rind with the olive oil, capers, salt, and pepper, shake well to emulsify and taste, adjusting seasonings to get the balance you prefer. Snap asparagus stem ends off and slice spears thinly on the diagonal, keeping tender tips intact. In a serving bowl, combine asparagus, mushrooms, red onion, and parsley with dressing and let stand for 20-130 minutes. Add cheese and nuts, toss gently and serve. Serves at least one.
Raw Asparagus & Shallot Salad
1/4 cup avocado oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon thyme, stemmed and minced
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups black Tuscan kale, shredded
1 cup arugula or radicchio, shredded
8 spears asparagus, ends snapped, cut thinly in rounds
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
In a jar, combine avocado oil, vinegar, thyme, salt, and pepper, shake well to emulsify and taste, adjusting seasonings to get the balance you prefer. In a serving bowl, combine kale, arugula, asparagus, and shallots. Drizzle with dressing, toss gently and let stand for 15-20 minutes, then serve, garnished with almonds. Serves 2-4.