How NOT to Cook Fresh Asparagus

April 28, 2011 | By | COMMENTS

How NOT to Cook Fresh Asparagus 1
I used to work at a nonprofit which, to help pay our salaries and other overhead, operated a thrift store. Our offices were upstairs from the store, which made for great coffee/tea/computer eyestrain breaks. Because it meant shopping! At a thrift store! While you were working!

Among my best purchases were: a child’s monkey costume; a large painting of a rhinoceros; a marionette puppet of one of the members of N’Sync; a box full of old ‘Vegetarian Times’ magazines; and this photo of local politician Cass Ballenger with a very old woman wearing mismatched clothes. But I’m not here to talk about local politicians. I’m here to talk about the Vegetarian Times, and how it led me down a path of Asparagus Sadness.
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One of the magazines from the aforementioned Box O’Magazines featured a lovely marinated asparagus dish on the front cover. The magazine also had other asparagus dishes including a soup, a salad, and a bread pudding. Because I am a List-Maker and also easily seduced by pretty pictures, I added those recipes to my ‘to-make’ list.
But because I am cheap I never made them, as the thought of buying 3 pounds of fresh asparagus at once for just one recipe made the penny-pincher part of my mind (oh, wait: that’s my entire mind) shudder just a little bit. So I bought my mom asparagus crowns for Christmas one year. And then I waited. And waited. Finally—finally! They were ready to harvest, and harvest them I did. (Thanks, mom, for letting me steal your asparagus).
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But when I dug out the recipe for the East-West Asparagus, I realized that the recipe wasn’t going to work for me for three reasons: 1. It required marinating overnight, and I wanted to eat the asparagus the same day as harvesting. 2. It was supposed to be served cold, and I wanted something warm as it was a bit chilly out (and by chilly I mean lower 60s: this is North Carolina we’re talking about). And 3. It called for blanching the asparagus and for some reason I have a mental block about blanching any vegetable at all, ever.
So I decided to tweak the recipe a little, and use the same ingredients but turn it into a stir-fry sauce, more or less. And how did that work out? Not so well.
It was tasty, don’t get me wrong. But it was a heavy sauce, something you would use to try to cover up the taste of a vegetable rather than enhance it. So the fresh asparagus that I had waited for years to harvest ended up being more of a texture in the dish than an identifiable ingredient. Sigh.
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It’s not a terrible sauce. A little on the salty side, perhaps, but not bad. Sort of like the ‘Brown Sauce’ or the ‘Szechwan style’ at your local Chinese takeout place. Here’s the recipe if you want to try it at home with maybe some broccoli or carrots—any vegetable that can stand up to a strong sauce but just not, for goodness sake, fresh asparagus. It makes quite a bit of sauce, so be sure to make some rice, too, to help sop it up.
Stir-fried Vegetables in Heavy Sauce
2 or so pounds assorted fresh vegetables—broccoli, onions, carrots, green beans, etc.—cut into bite-size pieces
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 Tablespoon mirin (optional)
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
In a small bowl mix together soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger, honey, mirin and red pepper flakes. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add vegetables and cook 3-4 minutes, until beginning to soften. Add sauce mixture and stir. Cook 2-3 minutes until sauce is slightly reduced. Reduce heat to low.
Mix cornstarch with 1 Tablespoon water until thoroughly blended. Add cornstarch mixture to the stir-fry and stir well to combine. Continue cooking until sauce is thickened. Serve over rice.

Categories: Cooking Stories

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