Sunday, April 13, 2008

Asparagus and Wild Rice; A Beautiful Combo

I think spring may officially be here. Well, at least on the Central Coast of California it is. I spend about 45 minutes to an hour every Saturday morning at my local farmer's market buying food for my husband and I (me plus growing baby) for the week. About 75% of what we eat comes from this market, and we eat almost 100% seasonally. The California Central Coast is blessed climate wise and we have packed farmer's markets year round, brimming with seasonal produce. If you start to follow this blog, you will notice that almost all of my recipes are based upon the seasons and what produce is available at my market. That is not to say that I do not buy produce from other regions, for example tropical fruits. I do, but if a food is local to my region, I always opt to buy this first before any other.
The last two markets have been showing the promises of spring, with snap and shelling peas, asparagus, more varieties of greens than I can count, fava beans, and spring garlic and onions at every stand. We always have cauliflower, broccoli, radish, fennel, carrots, and beets (as I said, we are blessed) so these are usual foods on our weekly menus. I bought my first bunch of local asparagus and decided to make the below salad with it, one of my favorites. I wrote this recipe a little over a year ago and added it to a small vegan cookbook I wrote for a vegetarian cooking class I teach a couple times every spring.
Normally, I cook wild rice in the fall and winter, with its complex flavors and heady aromas comforting our chilly house, but this recipe is a good way to use wild rice in the spring. Wild rice is one of the few grains (actually, the seed to an aquatic grass) that is native to the Americas, the Great Lakes area to be exact. Most of the wild rice available to us today is actually commercially grown in California. This wild rice lacks the complexity of available colors and flavors of a true wild rice, but is still good, and is a little more consistent in size and cooking time. If you have some true wild rice available, use it, your salad will turn out a little more interesting. This salad is quite light on the stomach and I find the additions of Myer lemon and fennel to be crisp and refreshing. If asparagus is not available or unwanted (who doesn't like asparagus?), snap peas are just as good, and toasted sunflower seeds make a tasty replacement for hazelnuts. I also sometimes like to add thin slices of steamed beets to the bottom of the platter. I always save my ends that I remove from my asparagus spears to use in some kind of pureed soup where the stringy texture will not prevail. Most likely a recipe featuring these ends will come forth some time this week, so stay tuned and save yours. Hope you like the salad.

Wild Rice, Asparagus, and Hazelnut Salad with
Meyer Lemon-Shallot Dressing
Copyright by Correne Quigley, 2007

-½ cup wild rice
-15 asparagus spears with tough ends removed, cut into
¾ inch pieces and slightly blanched**
-½ cup finely minced fennel bulb
-½ cup toasted, chopped hazelnuts
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
-1 teaspoon minced tarragon
-1 tablespoon minced fennel frond
Dressing Ingredients:
-1 tablespoon minced shallot
-1/4 cup Myer lemon juice
-1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar
-2 teaspoons raw honey
-2 teaspoons white miso
-1/4 cup organic, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:
Combined the ½ cup wild rice with 1 ½ cups water and a pinch of salt in a medium sized pot. Bring to a boil and immediately turn down to a simmer and cover. Cook until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. Pour the rice out onto a plate to cool. When cool, combine the cooked wild rice with the blanched asparagus spears**, minced fennel, and chopped hazelnuts. Season with a little salt and pepper, set aside.

For the dressing:
Place the minced shallots, Meyer lemon juice, vinegar, honey, and white miso in a medium sized glass jar fitted with a lid. Shake the jar to mix the ingredients and to incorporate the miso. Remove the lid and add in the olive oil. Shake vigorously again. Alternately, whisk all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Slowly add the olive oil in a thin, steady stream, to evenly incorporate while constantly whisking.

Assemble the salad:
Pour about 4 tablespoons of the dressing over the rice mixture to moisten. Mix well and taste for seasoning of salt and white pepper. Let the salad stand a few minutes to absorb the dressing and taste again. If it is too dry and bland, add about 2 more tablespoons and repeat the same procedure, allowing the rice to absorb the dressing. This recipe usually takes about 6 tablespoons of dressing, but it is a good idea to add slow. You can always add more, but never take away. Add the herbs right before serving to preserve their bright flavors. This salad serves about 4 people as a side dish, or 2 as a main course.

** To blanch the asparagus pieces: Instead of dropping the pieces into lots of rapidly boiling salted water, instead, I place the pieces into a large bowl and cover with three times as much simmering water and cover. I leave this for about 3-4 minutes, or until the asparagus reach a crisp-tender texture. I then immediately drain the asparagus and run under cold water to cool quickly and preserve crunch and color. I like the asparagus just slightly crunchy for this dish, and I prefer the gentle cooking this method provides. Your asparagus will not turn brown from this unless you leave it in the hot water for a long time. This is the method I use when I want to just take away the raw edge from a vegetable.


Anonymous said...

WOW, Cory--BEAUTIFUL JOB! I'm so glad all of your hard work is paying off. I'm so happy for you. You, Fred & the "Faysal-to-be" are 2-1/2 of my favorite people. Since I now have access to year 'round fresh from the garden fruit & veggies (which I will share with your folks), I will be anxiously looking forward to more of your great-looking recipes. I think I could even become a vegan.....
Keep up the good work!

We love you,

Terry (& Paul)
North Fork, CA

Anonymous said...

Hi Cory

Beautiful pics - encourages me to work with unusual vegies that I had not even thought of. You have put a lot of thought into each recipie and it shows. Love to the soon-to-be three. Love Aunt Marlene