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Celebrate The Coming Of Spring With A New Look At Asparagus

 

Last updated 3/9/2020 at 12:12pm

The fresh flavor of springtime asparagus complements the Asian ingredients for a Japanese-inspired salad. (Courtesy photo by Dreamstime.com)

Spring is on the horizon. For many of us, it has seemed like a long time coming. So, when the weather starts warming up even a little, it really does feel miraculous - especially when new seasonal vegetables begin appearing in farmers markets, from locally grown asparagus to peas to the first fresh fava beans to tender, young leafy greens.

In celebration, I'd like to share one of my favorite recipes featuring asparagus: a fresh-tasting, Japanese-inspired salad that my catering team and I recently served at the Governors Ball celebration following the Academy Awards ceremony just a couple of weeks ago.

I find that bright, slightly sharp Asian seasonings like those featured in the dressing for this appetizer salad are perfect complements to the particularly fresh flavor of springtime asparagus, which can taste so much sweeter, milder and greener than the earthier flavor of the spears you find on sale year-round in many markets.

Almost all of the ingredients are fairly easy to find. Bottles of sharp, clean-flavored, unseasoned rice vinegar are usually shelved in the vinegar section of most well-stocked markets. You'll find rich-tasting, salty (yet mild and sweet) white miso paste, made from fermented soybeans combined with rice, in many supermarkets in both refrigerated and unrefrigerated forms; once opened, store it in the refrigerator, where it will keep for many months. Slices of sweet, spicy and tangy pickled ginger, the sort served alongside sushi, is sold in jars in many markets; and you can often buy small containers of it found alongside prepared packages of sushi in supermarket "grab-and-go" sections.

The only ingredient you may find a little harder to locate is the sansho pepper, a packaged Japanese seasoning made from the berries of a shrub called prickly ash, which have a citrusy flavor. If you don't have an Asian market nearby, buy it online; or just substitute a little ground Szechuan or black pepper.

With all the ingredients on hand, you'll find the recipe very easy to prepare. Take care to trim the asparagus, trimming off the tough ends and peeling any thick skin so you can enjoy as much of each spear as possible. And be sure not to overcook the asparagus, immersing it in salted boiling water for just 10 seconds or so and then, after draining, immediately plunging the spears into ice water to stop the cooking at the tender-crisp stage and keep the color a bright green that's a perfect expression of the new season.

Asian Asparagus Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 bunch jumbo asparagus, about 1 pound (500 g)

1/4 cup (60 mL) unseasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons white miso

2 tablespoons Japanese-style pickled sushi ginger

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 tablespoon soy sauce

3/4 cup (185 mL) canola oil

1 cup (250 mL) cherry tomatoes, cut in halves

1/2 bunch watercress, separated into small sprigs, thick stems discarded

2 teaspoons olive oil

Kosher salt

6 red radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced

Ground sansho pepper (available at Japanese markets), Szechuan pepper or freshly ground black pepper

1 package edible pesticide-free organic flowers (available at well-stocked supermarkets)

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and fill a bowl with ice cubes and water. Meanwhile, use a sharp knife to trim the cut ends of the asparagus; then, with a vegetable peeler, peel the tough skin from the bottom quarter to third of each stalk. Cut the stalks crosswise in half.

Add the asparagus to the boiling water, and cook for 10 seconds. Drain and immediately immerse the asparagus in the ice water. When the asparagus is cold, drain well and set aside.

To make the dressing, put the rice vinegar, white miso, pickled ginger, sugar and soy sauce in a blender. Blend at medium speed. With the machine running, slowly pour in the oil in a steady stream until a smooth, thick but slightly fluid dressing forms. Transfer the dressing to a nonreactive container and set aside.

To assemble the salad, toss the cherry tomatoes with 2 tablespoons of the dressing, adding more as needed to coat them; set aside. Toss the watercress with the olive oil, season lightly with salt, and set aside.

Arrange the asparagus pieces on a chilled platter or individual chilled serving plates and drizzle with some of the remaining dressing. Mound the cherry tomatoes on top. Arrange watercress sprigs and radish slices on top of and around the tomatoes and asparagus.

Lightly sprinkle with sansho pepper and garnish, if you like, with edible flower petals. Serve immediately.

(© 2020 Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content agency, LLC)

 
 

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