It’s been a long winter. Snow and cold temperatures left me feeling like all I wanted to do was bake and roast, keeping the oven going for hours at a time. But last week I saw the first sign of spring – asparagus in grocery stores! OK, maybe a few crocuses popped up too, but it was the asparagus that caught my eye, and my fancy.
I stir-fry year round, but particularly love to use the technique with fresh vegetables that come into season in the warmer months. Asparagus stir-fry beautifully, flavored with a simple and light ginger and sesame sauce. Bingo – I grabbed a nice, large bunch of slender asparagus, tossed them into my grocery cart, and off I went to bring springtime into my kitchen.
Stir-frying is perfect for weekday meals because you can do the preparation ahead of time and the cooking itself takes just a few minutes. Using mise en place (the fancy French phrase for “everything in its place”), placing all the ingredients ready-to-go, next to the wok or skillet in the order you will use them, is key to stir-frying success. For more complicated stir-fries, I also place a “cheat sheet” next to the ingredients because referring back to the prose of a recipe while I’m cooking slows me down. But this dish is simple, so just lining up the ingredients suffices for me.
While this recipe is my own, I must acknowledge my debt to four Asian friends/writers/cooks, Grace Young, Betty Ann Quirino, Pat Tanumihardja and Amy Besa, because they have taken me inside the world of Asian home cooking.
I grew up eating Chinese restaurant/take-out food that began with mass-produced egg rolls and ended with stale fortune cookies. Besides being less than high quality, it wasn’t even real Asian food. From dishes such as hot and sour soup, transformed into a version that barely resembled the real deal, to American inventions such as chop suey, it was the dinner counterpart to the grilled American cheese on white bread that we frequently ate for lunch.
Then I met these women. (Technically, my mother would say I haven’t yet met Grace and Pat because we’re online friends. But in my world that counts, especially when you’re talking about food – giving advice, encouragement, and trading recipes.) I learned to season and use a wok from Grace Young and she has become my “wok mentor.” I bought her book, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge and have never looked back. Betty Ann, Pat, and Amy have encouraged me to look beyond China for Asian food inspiration and remind me that you’re never too old to learn from friends and even their mothers and grandmothers.
I have not yet visited Asia, but at least I’ve managed to enjoy real Asian food – in my own kitchen, made with the wisdom and patient guidance of these women and their books and blogs.
Stir-Fried Asparagus with Ginger and Sesame
Servings – 4 Cost – $3-4 (when asparagus are in season)
- 1½ – 2 tablespoon high heat oil, such as peanut or sunflower
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger – about a 1-inch piece (here’s how to peel fresh ginger)
- 1½ pounds asparagus, preferably slender and young stalks
- 2 tablespoons Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil, preferably toasted (darker then “regular”)
- ½ teaspoon (or less) salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon or less of sesame seeds
- A 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or a 12-inch skillet (Traditionally stir-fries are made in a wok, but a 12-inch stainless steel skillet also works for this recipe and most other stir-fries.)
- Cutting board
- Measuring spoons
- 4 tiny bowls or cups
- Wooden or silicone spatula
- Cut off the tough bottom ends (about 1 inch) of the asparagus. If your asparagus are thick, parboil the stalks in a covered pan just until they turn bright green or slice them in half lengthwise. Make sure the asparagus are dry and slice them in thirds horizontally.
- Set out the four tiny bowls in a row near the stovetop. In the first put the minced ginger. In the second, mix the rice wine or dry sherry, the soy sauce and the sesame oil. In the third mix the salt and sugar and finally in the fourth put the sesame seeds.
- Pre-heat the wok or skillet. Test it by throwing in a droplet of water. If the droplet balls up and disappears quickly, the surface is hot enough to begin stir-frying. Add the high heat oil and roll it around to cover the wok/skillet surface.
- Add the minced garlic and stir it on high heat for about 30 seconds. Then add the asparagus and stir-fry them for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until they turn brighter green and the flowery tips begin to darken.
- Add the rice wine/sherry, soy sauce, and sesame oil mixture, stir for another 30-45 seconds, sprinkle on the sugar and salt, stir and shut off the heat. Divide the asparagus into portions and sprinkle the sesame seeds on top.
The Progressive Eats Asian Feast
Appetizer Chicken Satay
Salad Asian Coleslaw
Soups Egg Drop Soup
Main Course My Dad’s Chinese Sticky Honey Spareribs
Bread Asian Sweet Bread
Veggies/Sides Sweet and Spicy Pork Egg Rolls
Dessert Strawberry Cheesecake Wontons
Welcome to Progressive Eats, our virtual version of a Progressive Dinner Party. This month’s theme is Asian Feast and is hosted by Jeanette Chen who blogs at Jeanette’s Healthy Living. Join us and make something unique and delicious!
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats, a theme is chosen each month, members share recipes suitable for a delicious meal or party, and you can hop from blog to blog to check them out.
We have a core group of 12 bloggers, but we will always need substitutes and if there is enough interest would consider additional groups. To see our upcoming themes and how you can participate, please check out the schedule at Creative Culinary or contact Barb for more information.