Time is such a curious thing. When we want it pass to quickly, it seems to go so slowly. And when we want it to slow down, the days, weeks and months whizz right by.
It's late September already and I feel that this year has absolutely flown. In fact, I'm almost having trouble keeping up with the day and date (no, I don't have Alzheimer's, thanks for asking, it's just that I've been so incredibly busy this year). Anyhow, when a parcel of market-fresh asparagus arrived on my doorstep from the Australian Asparagus folk (thank you!), I knew that Spring had well and truly arrived.
'Tinned asparagus was the only asparagus I knew as a child,' Eric Rolls wrote in his book A Celebration of Food and Wine. 'It was regarded as a treat, like tinned crab,' he added. 'A favourite delicacy at afternoon tea were spears of asparagus rolled in thin buttered slices of white bread with the crusts cut off. Tinned asparagus now seems an abomination. It does not even suggest the flavour of fresh asparagus,' he concluded. This is so true!
Food history tells us that tender young shoots of fresh asparagus have been prized since the days of the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. Given this, it's somewhat curious that, like Eric Rolls, many of us grew up tasting only the canned version of this sweet and succulent vegetable.
Fresh asparagus is especially delicious when blanched, poached, grilled or stir-fried. With such beautiful specimens to work with, I chose Luke Nguyen's Asparagus wok-tossed with Asian mushrooms, which is on page 153 of his book, Indochine, in the chapter about Dalat. I had forgotten how good the dish was until I cooked it again this week.
For this simple dish, you need a bunch of fresh asparagus and an assortment of fresh Asian mushrooms; including oyster, black fungus or cloud ear, enoki and shiitake. I also added a few shimeji, because I love their look, taste and texture. You can find the best of these mushrooms at your local farmer's market, greengrocer or Asian grocer.
Luke's recipe is as follows and my comments or suggestions are in brackets:
ASPARAGUS WOK-TOSSED WITH ASIAN MUSHROOMS
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves (perhaps less), finely chopped
200g asparagus, trimmed and sliced into 4cm lengths
70g oyster mushrooms
70g black fungus
70g enoki mushrooms, trimmed and separated
70g shiitake mushrooms
(70g shimeji mushrooms, optional)
11/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar (perhaps a little more)
pinch of salt and ground black pepper (optional in my opinion, the dish doesn't need it)
1 bird's eye chilli, sliced
1/4 teaspoon (perhaps more) toasted sesame seeds
steamed jasmine rice, to serve (optional)
Heat a wok over medium heat. Add the oil and fry the garlic (gently) for 1 minute until fragrant, then add the asparagus and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add all the mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and 1 tablespoon of water. Toss for a further minute, or until the mushrooms are tender, then season with salt and pepper (if using). Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the chilli and sesame seeds. Serve with steamed jasmine rice. Serves 4-6 as part of a shared meal.
The verdict: this is a delicious vegetarian meal or side dish that I will definitely make again. It is so quick to prepare (seriously, it took less than five minutes to stir-fry) and is full of flavour.
Tell me dear readers, is time passing quickly for you this year, or has it dragged for some reason? Have you ever eaten canned asparagus? And do you enjoy wok-tossed vegetable dishes as much as I do?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.