Yesterday was National Asparagus Day in the UK and signalled the start of its short season which lasts only until Mid-Summer’s Day in June – so let’s pack as much asparagus as we can into our meals because not only is British asparagus the king of the crop when it comes to flavour and sweetness but it is also fabulously rich in nutrients! Asparagus loses its flavour very quickly after it is picked which is why the foreign imports always look pretty and green but taste of nothing so now is the time to gorge on our own local asparagus to our heart’s content.
Fibre? Folate? Selenium and potassium? Vitamins A, C, E and K? Yes, yes, yes! Antioxidants like glutathione, flavonoids and polyphenols? Valuable as a diuretic? Nourishing to the digestive tract and good for the microbiome? Absolutely! Calories? No! It is even touted as a cure for a hangover as it may help to reduce liver toxicity. So what are we waiting for? Let’s celebrate the arrival of the most royal of British vegetables! It is certainly one of my very favourites, and also a frustrating one as Sous-Chef is allergic to it and we can’t eat it at home.
The following recipe is a real celebration of Spring and early Summer. It is adapted from my vegan cookbook, which was published originally in 2011 as Vegan Cookbook The Essential Guide, went out of print in 2018, and has just been reprinted under a new name: The Essential Vegan Cookbook. It is a bit soon of course for fresh broad beans and peas but the frozen versions are very acceptable. And don’t be put off by the thought of skinning broad beans – this quantity does not take long.
SPRING VEGETABLE SALAD WITH DILL DRESSING
8 very thin slices wholemeal or sourdough bread
Olive oil for brushing + 120 ml
150 g frozen broad beans
125 g frozen peas or petit pois
1 bunch of slender asparagus spears, trimmed
150 g cucumber
1 large orange, washed
15 g fresh dill
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and squeezed dry
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 160oC/325oF/gas 3/fan oven 145oC and boil up a kettle.
Lay the bread slices out on a baking tray and brush with olive oil. Bake for about 10 minutes until light gold. Set aside to cool.
Pour boiling water from the kettle into a small saucepan, add some salt and the broadbeans, bring them to the boil and blanch for two or three minutes, then drain, refresh under cold water, drain again and slip off the skins. Refill the kettle and boil it up.
Repeat the process with the peas, pouring some more water into the saucepan, adding salt and the peas, bring them to the boil and drain immediately. Refresh under cold water and drain well.
Do the same with the asparagus, cooking them until they are just tender. This will depend on the size but start checking after three minutes if they are very slender. Drain them carefully.
Lay all the vegetables out on a clean tea towel to get rid of any excess water and set them aside to dry out a bit.
Halve the cucumber lengthways and, with a melon baller or small teaspoon, scrape out the seeds which are watery. Slice the cucumber on the diagonal about 2 mm thick.
With a citrus zester, remove the zest from the orange in long thin strips before squeezing the juice.
In a food processor, blend the orange juice, dill, garlic, capers, mustard, olive oil and some salt and pepper until you have a thick, smooth dressing. Check the seasoning.
Gently toss the asparagus, broad beans, peas, cucumber, spring onions and orange zest in a salad bowl. Add the dressing and toss again. Divide between two plates and top with the bread crisps.