Well aren’t you lovely, in the mid-morning sun…
I’ve been gorging myself on asparagus.
When the first spears came to market, I was first in line for a bushel. After such a long winter, it was such a treat to have something fresh and green. I’ve been eating asparagus with every meal – grilled, sauteed, steamed, boiled, roasted, with garlic, with horseradish, with onions, and more!
Now that I’ve had my fill and am down to the last stalks, it’s time for asparagus to take on a supporting role. And why not with my favourite grain, rice!
I substituted the broad beans for some of last year’s peas that were hanging out in the freezer. I also added some caramelized shallots to the dish, and instead of the suggest mint-yoghurt accompaniment, I sprinkled the mint right on top for a fresh finish.
Slater’s original instructions are to soak the rice for an hour, then cook it on low for a time. The first time I did this, it resulted in a still-wet texture rather than a dry fluffiness – pilaf requires a method of cooking that leaves every grain separate, almost dry – no mush, no stickiness. As such, I’ve used my friend Mojgan’s technique for Iranian-style rice here. It’s produces amazing results.
Yield: 2 big servings
2 handfuls of broad beans, podded (I used spring peas)
12 thin asparagus spears, cut into short lengths
120 grams white basmati rice
50 grams of butter or oil
3 bay leaves
6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
6 black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves (no more)
pinch, cumin seeds
generous pinch, salt
2 sprigs of thyme or savoury
2 spring onions, finely sliced
4 teaspoons of chopped parsley
2 teaspoons of chopped mint
- Wash the rice very well. While it’s tedious work to have to continuously run water over rice, it’s important to take the time. Take a deep breath, and listen to the calming sounds of water running. I give myself plenty of time and start by soaking the rice for 15 minutes, then straining it through a fine-mesh sieve and running it under the tap a few turns. The trick is to do so until a lot of the starch is gone and the water runs near-clear.
- Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil (don’t worry, you don’t have to measure). Add a teaspoon of salt to the boiling water. Tip the washed rice in, and allow it to come to boil again. Moj noted this process is much like cooking pasta. After approximately 6 minutes, try a grain – it should be al dente (soft but with bite). Strain the rice back through the fine-mesh sieve, run under cold water for 10 seconds, and leave it off to the side for all the water to drip off.
- Place the medium-sized pot back on medium-heat. Add the butter/oil to heat. Once it bubbles, add the bay leaves, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, salt and thyme/savoury. Stir everything round in the oil for a minute or two, until the fragrance wafts up.
- Tip the rice into pan. Now here’s where Moj’s second technique comes in. Before you cover the pot, add a thick(ish) tea towel underneath, being sure to tuck the edges in (photo below). The reason you do this is to allow the tea towel to absorb all the extra liquid, leaving you with perfect granules.
- Once the funny lid is on, turn the heat down to low (2-3 on an electric stove), and allow the rice to cook for approximately 30 minutes.
- While the rice is cooking, bring out a small sautee pan, bring it to high heat and add a drizzle of oil. Sautee the asparagus and broad beans/peas until tender. Season with a little bit of salt. Set the vegetables aside.
- After 30 minutes, open up the lid and try a bit of rice. It should be cooked through but no longer wet. If it’s still soppy, turn up the heat a little bit and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Once the rice is cooked, add the cooked asparagus and broad beans/peas plus the spring onions, parsley and mint.
- Serve as a side dish, or eat it straight out of the pot with your lover.
I topped the dish with caramelized shallots. What a treat!
Want to read more about pilaf? Check out this article in the Guardian.
I had a roommate who spent an entire summer juicing beets.
Every morning I’d wake up to the whirrrrrrrrrrrr and gggrrrrrrrrrr of the juicing machine. When I got down to the kitchen there she was, ready with a smile and a shot glass of the bloody stuff.
I both loved and loathed it. There was so much pressure to shoot it quickly: you didn’t want it getting warm, and as she always reminded me, vegetables lost half of their nutrients within 5 minutes of juicing. I had to brace myself like it was cheap tequila on a sloppy Friday night – head back, eyes closed, glass tilted up to the ceiling – the sweet severe tang would hit my insides with such intensity it made me both cringe and jump into action.
I couldn’t eat beets for a couple years after that…
I’m happy to report I’ve opened up to them again, and smiled when I saw their fierce colour peaking out amongst all the green leafy vegetables at the Farmers’ Market.
As for how I’ll eat them, it certainly won’t involve that juicer that’s been collecting dust.
Nigel Slater’s beautiful vegetable-focused cookbook Tender | Volume I offers some great beet recipes, including a moist chocolate beetroot cake with crème fraîche poppy seed frosting and a beet raita for lentil curry.
“Beet’s concentrated jewel-like colour is both its joy and its downfall. It is sod’s law that it should marry so happily with the virginal white of goat’s cheeses, mascarpone and thick puddles of crème fraîche, none of whose looks are improved by a pink stain curdling the outer edge. Unable to take baby-pink food to heart, I make a habit of mixing the scarlet roots with dairy ingredients only at the last minute, often passing a bowl of soured cream and chopped dill around for everyone to annount their own salad at the table.”
So far, all C. and I have managed to do is goof around with them.
“If you know what you are doing in a Michigan winter, you will greet depression with depressants. Pad your dying soul with flesh. Give up and get fat. Hibernate. In the impossible spring, your cheeks will be round enough for the right spargel grin. A grin worthy of the triump of cathedral tips breaking through the ground: the asparagus is here! The asparagus is all that’s here, in the farmers’ market in May, aside from a few stalks of rhubarb. We are still wobbly on our indoor legs. Under our eyes are deep circles of leftover winter despair. We have been waiting so long for a vegetable or fruit.”
― “Asparagus Superhero” by Phoebe Nobles, from “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One”, edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler
“In the dog days of winter, when my breath freezes as I exhale and the idea of spring seems like a cruel joke, there is something I begin to think about, then fixate on: a light at the end of an icy tunnel. Some cooks I know dream of tender asparagus; others fantasize about the sweetness of peas. I begin to dream of ramps. To me nothing announces the end of winter like the arrival of ramps.”
― Yoshi Yamada’s “Ravenous for Ramps”, Gourmet
Sometimes we forget that vegetables come from the dirt, that healthy soil make healthy greens.
C.’s chums shared some of their foraged ramps and fiddleheads, and I took them out to prepare them for a photo shoot, but stopped when I realized there was something perfect about their just-picked state.
Here are the ramps after a bath: perfect creamy bulbs, magenta mid-sections, and broad green leaves.
You can’t tell from the picture, but their glorious pungent stink filled the room.