I am truly inspired by the seasons. As a Chicago native, I used to take the seasons for granted. I thought everyone grew up sledding and making snow angels in the winter. I thought everyone knew the feeling of walking on crispy, crackling leaves in the Fall. I thought everyone anticipated watching the tulips come out in the Spring. I thought everyone grew up with hot and humid pool days and cool summer nights. I realize now, that these memories are very specific to Chicago, my home.
When I moved to California, I learned to experience the seasons in a new way. The weather did not change dramatically but the food did. From my first job , I was exposed to seasonal farm-to-table cooking. What does this mean? It means you only cook with what the farmers are growing at that specific time of year. This is the way Europeans have always cooked and also why their food tastes so damn good. It’s pretty simple, eating the freshest ingredients maximizes the flavor in any dish. Learning what ingredients were grown during each season was a humbling experience for a mid-western girl like me. I was enlightened to learn that brussel sprouts grew in the fall, squash and root vegetables in the winter, artichokes in the Spring, and peaches and tomatoes in the summer. I tasted an abundance of new fresh flavors and started to associate those flavors with a specific time of year.
Now that I am back in Chicago, I associate the Spring with way more than nice weather and tulips. To me Spring means cooking with some of my favorite ingredients in the world: green garlic, Spring onions, sweet peas, fava beans, apricots, Morel mushrooms, rhubarb and asparagus. I love Spring produce because the flavors are delicate, light and complement a variety of dishes.
Last week I bought my first bunch of spring asparagus and was super excited to roast it off with a little olive oil and salt and eat the whole bunch like candy. Instead of going with this simple approach (that I highly recommend), I started to play around with some other ingredients I had in my pantry to step it up a notch. I decided to bread and bake the asparagus to add some Asian flavor and emphasize the crunch of the asparagus. Typically, the standard breading procedure involves flour, egg and breadcrumbs. Instead of following the rules, this time I substituted coconut milk with lime zest and rice wine vinegar for eggs and added toasted pistachio nuts and an AMAZING sesame spice blend to the breadcrumbs. I think the secret weapon in this recipe is the Spicy Sesame Salad Sprinkle from The Spice House. It’s a combination of two types of sesame seeds, dried herbs and salt that complements the delicate sweetness of the asparagus and gives it an Asian twist. If you can’t get your hands on this spice blend, feel free to use a combination of toasted sesame seeds and dried oregano instead. I hope you enjoy this recipe and start experimenting with the seductive flavors of Spring!
Sesame-Pistachio Baked Asparagus Fries with a Wasabi-Lemon Aioli
Asparagus Fries Ingredients:4 oz. lite coconut milk 1 tsp. sesame oil 1 Tbs. rice wine vinegar 1 lime, zested 1 cup homemade breadcrumbs ½ cup pistachio nuts, toasted and blended down fine 2 Tbs. “Spicy Sesame Salad Sprinkle” from The Spice House (a mix of toasted sesame seeds and dried oregano can be substituted) 1 large bunch asparagus, trimmed ends ¼ cup all purpose flour Kosher salt, to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with wax paper.
In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, sesame oil and lime zest. In another medium sized bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, pistachio nuts and sesame spice blend. Season lightly with kosher salt. (Don’t add too much because the sesame spice blend contains salt)
Rinse off the asparagus and pat semi-dry. In a large bowl combine the asparagus and flour. Mix together until the asparagus is coated. Dip each floured asparagus in the coconut milk mixture and then dredge through the breadcrumbs. Place the breaded asparagus on baking sheet. They should be spaced out so they do not touch or overlap.
Bake for 12 minutes in the oven. Broil for the last 3 minutes. Serve hot with the wasabi-lemon aioli.
Ingredients:1 clove garlic 1 whole egg 1 egg yolk ¾ large lemon, juiced ½-1 tsp. wasabi paste (depending on the spice level desired) 1 cup vegetable oil kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
In a food processor, add the whole egg, egg yolk and garlic. Turn on the motor and slowly add the vegetable oil. The mixture should start out loose and bind together (emulsify) as the oil is slowly added. At this point the mixture should change from a loose liquid to a thicker consistency, like the texture of mayonnaise. Mix in the lemon juice, wasabi and season with salt and pepper.