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Green and great; Now is the best time for asparagus.

Byline: Barbara M. Houle

A darling in the produce aisle right now is fresh asparagus.

It's available year-round, but February through June is the best time to buy this bright green vegetable sporting purple-tinged tips.

California growers, represented by the California Asparagus Commission, provide most of the early fresh asparagus. The season is off to a good start, according to a commission spokesperson, who expects supplies will meet demand.

Look for Massachusetts-grown asparagus in May and June.

While some people prefer thin stalks of asparagus, which don't have to be peeled, others like big, fat stalks. The important thing is not to buy shriveled or damaged spears.

Preparing asparagus is as easy as snapping off the bottom of each stem. The editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine offer this advice: With one hand, hold the asparagus about halfway down the stalk; with the thumb and index finger of the other hand, hold the spear about an inch up from the bottom. Bend the stalk until it snaps.

You can cook asparagus any way you like. Home cooks who want to spice up their recipe repertoire will enjoy Asparagus and Lamb Stir Fry, a dish from the California Asparagus Commission that lets you savor every bite.

Asparagus and Lamb Stir Fry

1 pound boneless lamb (from the leg or loin)

2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

3 teaspoons cornstarch, divided

1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth or dry sherry

1 tablespoon Chinese chili-garlic sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil

4 green onions, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces

1 teaspoon freshly minced ginger

1 clove garlic

1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Cut lamb into long 2-inch-wide strips along the grain of the meat, then cut crosswise (across the grain) into thin slices. In a medium bowl, combine lamb, 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and 2 teaspoons of the cornstarch.

To make sauce: In a small bowl, stir together the broth, the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 teaspoon cornstarch, chili-garlic sauce and sugar; set aside.

Heat wok or large frying pan over high heat.

Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil into the hot work, swirling to coat. Add lamb and cook, stirring and tossing, until lightly golden, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon remove to a plate. Reduce heat to medium-high.

Pour the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil into hot wok, swirling to coat. Add green onions, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add asparagus and cook, stirring and tossing, until bright green, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Stir the sauce to blend and add to the pan. Cook, stirring until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute; cover and cook until asparagus is tender-crisp, about 1 minute. Return lamb to the pan and just heat through. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve immediately with steamed rice or rice noodles. Makes 4 servings.

ART: PHOTOS

PHOTOG: (1) COURTESY OF CALIFORNIA ASPARAGUS COMMISSION (2) PHOTOGRAPHY/TOM RETTIG
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 27, 2008
Words:503
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