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May 14, 2002

Greetings,

One of the best things about springtime is the abundance of fresh asparagus that floods the markets here in the U.S.. May is actually National Asparagus Month here in the US, and there is even an Asparagus Day: May 24th. Not only is it a delicious vegetable, but it contains vitamin A, C, E, B6, thiamin, folic acid, potassium, and small amounts of iron. It also contains a lot of fiber, which may explain why it has long been used as a laxative and diuretic. In many cultures, it is also thought to be an aphrodisiac (and not just because of the shape of the spear) and to positively affect one's overall emotional well-being.

Asparagus is related to garlic, onions, and others in the lily family. There are many varieties of asparagus available in shades of green, white (not exposed to sunlight, so no chlorophyll/green color develops), and purple. When shopping for asparagus, look for tightly-closed tips with firm stems. Thickness of the stems is a personal choice and not related to tenderness, but instead to the age of the bed in which it grew (young and old beds seem to result in the skinniest stems). The best way to trim the stems is to hold the fattest end of the stalk in one hand, and the middle of the stalk in the other hand, and bend until the stalk breaks where it wants to, leaving the woody part of the stem behind. Asparagus stems can be used in soups and the tender tips can be enjoyed simply raw or steamed, or tossed into salads and side dishes.

This installment of recipes features asparagus (and a few other springtime vegetable favorites) and showcases its versatility and adaptability to many cuisines throughout the world. Hopefully those who have been intimidated by its noble spears in the past will give them a try. As always, be good to one another, and remember... eat your veggies! :-)

 
 

Pepper Divider

 

Creamy Asparagus Soup

1 1/2 lbs. asparagus, tough ends trimmed
3 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups onion, diced
1 T. garlic, minced
1 T. lemon juice
1 cup cold water
1 1/2 T. cornstarch or arrowroot
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
3 T. freshly chopped basil
1/2 t. sea salt
1/8 t. white pepper
1 cup soy milk, rice milk, or other non-dairy milk of choice
3 T. nutritional yeast flakes
Garnish: thin slices of lemon

Cut the tips off the asparagus, place them in a steamer basket, steam them for 2-3 minutes or until tender, and set aside. Thinly slice the stems diagonally, place them in a steamer basket, steam them for 4-5 minutes or until tender, and set aside. Measure the water left over from steaming the asparagus, add additional water to measure 7 cups, and place it in a large pot. Add the potatoes, onion, garlic, and lemon juice, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. In a blender or food processor, place the cold water and cornstarch, and blend well to combine. Strain the cooked vegetables from the broth, reserving the cooking liquid, transfer the cooked vegetables to the food processor, and return the cooking liquid to the pot. Add the fresh herbs to the cooking liquid and stir well to combine. Add half of the reserved steamed asparagus stems to the food processor and puree the mixture until smooth. To the pot containing the herbed cooking liquid, add the pureed mixture, reserved steamed tips and stems, and the remaining ingredients, and stir well to combine. Remove the pot from the heat and set the soup aside for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Taste and adjust seasonings, as needed. Serve hot or cold and garnish individual servings with a thin slice of lemon.

Yield: 3 Quarts

 

Pepper Divider

 

Asparagus and Phyllo Cigars

1/4 cup freshly chopped dill
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
1/4 cup freshly snipped chives
1 T. finely grated lemon zest
6 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
olive oil
6 T. sesame seeds, toasted
24 asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed

In a small bowl, place the chopped dill, parsley, chives, and lemon zest, toss well to combine, and set aside. On a work surface, place one sheet of phyllo dough, and cover the remaining with a clean towel to keep them from drying out. Brush the phyllo dough with a little olive oil, then sprinkle 2 T. of the herb mixture and 1 T. sesame seeds evenly over the entire surface. Using a sharp knife or pastry wheel cutter, cut the sheet of phyllo dough vertically into 4 strips. For each strip of phyllo, place the end of one asparagus spear at the bottom edge, then tightly roll at a slight diagonal to enclose the length of the spear of asparagus, and tuck in the end of the strip of phyllo at the tip of the asparagus. Transfer the phyllo-wrapped spear to a large plate. Repeat the rolling procedure for the remaining strips and then repeat the entire procedure for the remaining sheets of phyllo dough and asparagus spears. When all of the phyllo cigars have been assembled, cover them with a clean towel and place them in the refrigerator to chill for one hour or more. Transfer the phyllo cigars to a non-stick cookie sheet and bake them at 425 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until the phyllo dough is lightly browned and crisp.

Yield: 2 Dozen

 

Pepper Divider

 

Asparagus and Herb Pesto

1 lb. asparagus, tough ends trimmed, spears cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 cups basil leaves, loosely packed
1 cup Italian parsley sprigs, loosely packed
5 cloves garlic (or more, to taste)
1/3 cup water or vegetable stock
1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 t. sea salt
1/4 t. lemon pepper or white pepper
2/3 cup olive oil

Place the asparagus spears in a steamer basket and steam for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Remove the asparagus from the steamer basket and set aside to cool. In a food processor, place the pine nuts, and process for 1 minute to finely chop them. Add the steamed asparagus and process for 1 minute to form a chunky puree. Add the basil, parsley, and garlic, and pulse a few times to roughly chop the herbs. Add the water, nutritional yeast flakes, salt, and lemon pepper, and process for 1-2 minutes to form a smooth puree. While the machine is running, drizzle in the olive oil, and continue to process the mixture for 1 additional minute. Transfer the pesto to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Use as a sauce for pasta, vegetables, or grains, or to add flavor to sauces, dressings, or side dishes, or as a sandwich spread.

Yield: 3 cups

 

Pepper Divider

 

Red Skin Potato and Roasted Asparagus Salad

3 lbs. red skin potatoes, washed well, and left whole
water
1 lb. asparagus, tough ends trimmed
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup Asparagus and Herb Pesto (see recipe above)
2 T. water
2 T. olive oil
1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup snipped chives
2 T. freshly chopped dill

Begin by placing the whole red skin potatoes in a large pot, cover them with water, and cook them over medium heat for 20-25 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife. Remove the pot from the heat, drain the water, and allow the potatoes to cool. Place the potatoes in the refrigerator and chill them for several hours or overnight. Slice the asparagus spears diagonally into 1-inch pieces and place them on a non-stick cookie sheet. Drizzle the asparagus with a little olive oil and season to taste with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes. Roast the asparagus in a 450 degree oven for 8-10 minutes or until crisp tender. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and set aside to cool.

Cut the chilled red skin potatoes into 1-inch pieces and place them in a large bowl. In a small bowl, place the red wine vinegar, Asparagus and Herb Pesto, water, and olive oil, and stir well to combine. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and toss gently to thoroughly coat the potatoes. Add the roasted asparagus, along with the remaining ingredients, season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss gently to combine. Allow the flavors to blend for 15 minutes or more before serving.

Serves 6

 

Pepper Divider

 

Creamy Bulgur, Corn, and Asparagus Salad

Dressing:
2 T. raw almonds
water
2 T. lime juice
1 T. water
2 t. nutritional yeast flakes
1/4 t. sea salt
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
dash of cayenne pepper
2 T. safflower oil
1/3 cup freshly chopped cilantro
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
 
1 cup bulgur, rinsed
1 1/2 cups water
1 T. tamari, soy sauce, or Bragg Liquid Aminos
8 oz. asparagus, tough ends trimmed
1 cup cut corn
1 cup fennel, diced (including frond tops)
3/4 cup orange or red pepper, destemmed, deseeded, and diced
1/3 cup green onions, thinly sliced

Begin the dressing by placing the almonds in a small bowl, cover them with water, place them in the refrigerator, and leave them to soak overnight to loosen their skins. Remove the almonds from the water, squeeze each almond between your thumb and forefinger to remove the skin, place them on a towel, and set them aside to dry. In a blender or food processor, place the almonds and process for 1-2 minutes to finely grind them. Scrape down the sides of the container, add the lime juice, water, nutritional yeast flakes, sea salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper, and process for 30 seconds. Add the safflower oil and process for 1 minute to form a smooth puree. Add the cilantro and parsley, pulse several times to combine, and set the dressing aside.

Next, prepare the bulgur by placing it in a large bowl, pour the water and tamari over the top, and stir well to combine. Set the bulgur mixture aside for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the bulgur is tender. Add the reserved dressing to the bulgur and toss well to thoroughly coat the bulgur with the dressing. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the stems of the asparagus, and then slice the asparagus spears diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces. Add the asparagus, corn, fennel, orange/red pepper, and green onions to the bulgur mixture, and toss gently to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings, as desired. The bulgur salad mixture can also be served as a sandwich or wrap filling.

Serves 6

 

Pepper Divider

 

Red Pepper and Asparagus Frittata

water
1 lb. asparagus, tough ends trimmed
safflower oil, for oiling pan
1 lb. firm tofu, crumbled
1/2 cup soy milk, rice milk, or other non-dairy milk of choice
2 T. arrowroot
2 T. nutritional yeast flakes
1 T. garlic, minced
1 1/2 t. agar-agar flakes
1 t. Dijon mustard
1 t. sea salt
1/8 t. turmeric
1/8 t. white pepper
1/4 cup freshly chopped basil
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
1 cup red pepper, destemmed, deseeded, and diced
1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup vegan soy mozzarella cheese, shredded

Begin by preparing the asparagus: fill a medium saucepan half full with water, place it over high heat, and bring to a boil. Slice the asparagus spears diagonally into 1-inch pieces and place them in a fine mesh strainer. Place the strainer in the boiling water and cook the asparagus in the water for 2 minutes to blanch them. Remove the strainer from the water and set the asparagus aside. Using a little safflower oil, lightly oil a 10-inch quiche pan or spring-form pan and set aside.

In a food processor, place the tofu, soy milk, arrowroot, nutritional yeast flakes, garlic, agar-agar, Dijon mustard, salt, turmeric, and white pepper, and process for 2 minutes or until it forms a smooth puree. Pour half of the tofu mixture into the prepared quiche pan, evenly distribute the blanched asparagus and the remaining ingredients in the pan, and then top with the remaining tofu mixture. Using a spoon, slightly swirl the two mixtures together, and then smooth the top. Bake at 375 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until the filling is firm to the touch and dry on the top. Remove the frittata from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting. Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.

Yield: One 10-inch frittata

 

Pepper Divider

 

Tomato and Asparagus Au Gratin

2 lbs. asparagus, tough ends trimmed
olive oil
6 Roma tomatoes, sliced
3 T. nutritional yeast flakes
2 T. garlic, minced
2 T. freshly chopped parsley
1 t. Herbes de Provence
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the asparagus spears in a steamer basket and steam for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Using a little olive oil, lightly oil a large baking dish. Place the steamed asparagus spears in three rows in the prepared baking dish. Place the slices of two Roma tomatoes over each of the rows of asparagus. Drizzle a little additional olive oil over the top of the tomatoes and asparagus, sprinkle the nutritional yeast flakes, garlic, and Herbes de Provence over the top, and then season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened.

Serves 6

 

Pepper Divider

 

Stir-Fried Asparagus with Almonds and Sesame Seeds

2 lbs. asparagus, tough ends trimmed
2 T. garlic, minced
2 T. ginger, minced
1 T. safflower oil
4 t. unbleached cane sugar
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
3 T. sesame seeds
1 T. toasted sesame oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Slice the asparagus spears diagonally into 1-inch pieces and set aside. In a wok or large non-stick skillet, saute the garlic and ginger in the safflower oil for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the asparagus and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes or until crisp tender. Add the remaining ingredients, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir-fry an additional 1 minute. Serve as a side dish or toss with cooked pasta, rice, or other grains.

Serves 6

 

Pepper Divider

 

Steamed Asparagus with Citrus Cream Sauce and Cashews

1 orange
2 T. unbleached flour
2 T. safflower oil
1 1/2 cups soy milk, rice milk, or other non-dairy milk of choice
1/2 t. sea salt
1/4 t. lemon pepper (or white pepper)
2 lbs. asparagus, tough ends trimmed
1/3 cup cashews, toasted, and roughly chopped

Peel the orange, then cut into segments over a bowl to catch the juices, cut the segments into small pieces, and set both the juice and chopped pieces aside. In a small saucepan, whisk together the flour and safflower oil to form a smooth paste. Add the soy milk, salt, and lemon pepper, and whisk well to combine. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook the mixture, while stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes or until thickened. Add the reserved orange juice and pieces to the sauce, stir well to combine, and remove the saucepan from the heat. Place the asparagus spears in a steamer basket and steam for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Transfer the steamed asparagus to a large platter, pour the sauce down the center of the spears, sprinkle the cashews over the sauce, and serve.

Serves 6

 

Pepper Divider

 

Golden Mushroom, Pea, and Asparagus Risotto

3 1/2 - 4 cups vegetable stock
1 lb. asparagus, tough ends trimmed
1 cup onion, diced
2 T. olive oil
1 1/2 cups cremini mushrooms, destemmed, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced
2 T. garlic, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1/4 t. saffron threads
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
2 T. freshly chopped dill
2 t. finely grated lemon zest

In a medium saucepan, place the vegetable stock, and bring to a boil. Slice the asparagus spears diagonally into 1-inch pieces and place them in a fine mesh strainer. Place the strainer in the boiling vegetable stock and cook the asparagus in the stock for 2 minutes to blanch them. Remove the strainer from the stock and set the asparagus aside. Reduce the heat of the stock to low. In a large saucepan, saute the onion in the olive oil for 3 minutes to soften. Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute the mixture an additional 3 minutes. Add the Arborio rice, stir well to coat it with the sauteed vegetable mixture, and cook an additional 2 minutes while stirring constantly or until rice turns opaque.

Add the white wine (or use some of the stock if omitting) and saffron threads, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir well to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook the mixture while stirring occasionally until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering vegetable stock and continue to cook, while stirring occasionally, until all of the stock has been absorbed. Repeat the procedure of adding a 1/2 cup of simmering stock, stirring, and cooking until fully absorbed before adding additional stock, until all but a 1/2 cup of stock remains. Add the blanched asparagus, along with the remaining ingredients, and stir well to combine. Cook the mixture an additional 2-3 minutes while stirring constantly, adding the remaining stock, as needed, so that the rice is tender and the risotto has a creamy consistency. Taste and adjust the seasonings, as desired.

Serves 4 (main dish) or 6 (side dish)

 

Pepper Divider

 

Spring Vegetable Melange

water
1 lb. asparagus, tough ends trimmed
1 1/2 cups baby carrots, cut diagonally in half lengthwise
8 oz. sugar snap peas
8 oz. pearl onions
1 lb. fresh fava beans, shelled
1 cup leeks, washed well, and thinly sliced
1 cup orange or yellow pepper, destemmed, deseeded, and diced
2 T. olive oil, divided
1 cup summer squash, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced
1 cup zucchini, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced
1 cup cut corn
1 T. garlic, minced
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
3 T. lemon juice
1 t. Herbes de Provence
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Begin by preparing the asparagus: fill a large saucepan half full with water, place it over high heat, and bring to a boil. Slice the asparagus spears diagonally into 1-inch pieces and place them in a fine mesh strainer. Place the strainer in the boiling water and cook the asparagus in the water for 2 minutes to blanch them. Remove the strainer from the water and set the asparagus aside. Place the baby carrots in the mesh strainer, place it in the boiling water, and cook the carrots in the boiling water for 2 minutes to blanch them. Add the carrots to the asparagus. Repeat the same blanching procedure for the sugar snap peas and pearl onions, use a paring knife to peel off the outer skin of the pearl onions, and then add both of them to the other blanched vegetables.

Place the fava beans in the mesh strainer, place it in the boiling water, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the fava beans from the boiling water, discard the water or save for use in soups or sauces, and set the fava beans aside separately to cool. When the fava beans are cool to the touch, using your fingers, peel away the outer skin and then add the fava beans to the other blanched vegetables. In a large non-stick skillet, saute the leeks and orange/yellow pepper in 1 T. of the olive oil for 3 minutes to soften. Add the summer squash, zucchini, corn, and garlic, and saute an additional 2 minutes. Add the blanched vegetables, along with the remaining olive oil and other ingredients, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir well to combine. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer the mixture for 3 minutes to blend the flavors. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a large bowl or platter for service.

Serves 6

 

Pepper Divider

 

Pasta Primavera

1 lb. fettucine or other pasta of choice
1/3 cup shallots, finely diced
1 T. olive oil
6 oz. asparagus, tough ends trimmed
1 cup carrot, julienned
3/4 cup red pepper, destemmed, deseeded, and diced
1 1/2 cups cremini or button mushrooms, destemmed, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced
2 T. garlic, minced
1 cup zucchini, cut into quarters lengthwise, and sliced
3/4 cup fresh or frozen peas
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, cut into small pieces
3 T. Dijon mustard
3 T. unbleached flour
1 T. onion powder
2 1/2 cups soy milk, rice milk, or other non-dairy milk of choice
1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes
3/4 t. sea salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 t. crushed red pepper flakes (or more, to taste)
4 cups spinach, triple washed, destemmed, and roughly chopped
1/3 cup freshly chopped parsley
3 T. freshly chopped dill

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the fettucine for 8-10 minutes or until al dente. Drain well, return the cooked fettucine to the pot, and set aside. Meanwhile, in a large non-stick skillet, saute the shallots in the olive oil for 2 minutes to soften. Cut the spears of asparagus diagonally into 1-inch pieces, separating the stems and tips, and set the tips aside for later use. Add the sliced asparagus stems, carrot, and red pepper to the shallots, and saute for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute an additional 2 minutes. Add the zucchini, peas, and sun-dried tomatoes, and continue to saute the mixture until the vegetables are tender.

Add the Dijon mustard, flour, and onion powder to the pan, stir well to combine, and cook the mixture for 1 minute while stirring constantly. Add the soy milk, nutritional yeast flakes, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes, stir well to combine, and cook the mixture an additional 2-3 minutes or until thickened. Add the remaining ingredients, cover, remove the pan from the heat, and set aside for 2-3 minutes to allow the spinach to wilt. Add the vegetable mixture to the cooked fettucine and toss well to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings, as desired. Transfer the pasta to a large bowl or platter for service.

Serves 8

 
 

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