For me, the first sure sign of the impending arrival of spring is asparagus season. Ontario asparagus is the first local vegetable of the year and the growing season is short, starting in early May and ending at the end of June.
This beautiful, delicious vegetable is basically calorie free, coming in at 4 calories per stalk so for people who care about such things can eat their fill. Of course, if you choose to drench it in a velvety aioli, a decadent hollandaise sauce or crispy pancetta and mounds of grated parmesan, that’s another story. I don’t judge.
Super nutritious, delicious and versatile, if you aren’t stuffing your faces full of asparagus for the entire months of May and June, you are not living your best life. Whether you steam it lightly, coat it in olive oil, salt and sesame seeds and roast it in the oven or puree it into a soup, asparagus is versatile enough to to ensure that you won’t tire of it by the time the season is up.
One of my favourite ways to eat fresh, Ontario asparagus is to shave it into thin ribbons using a vegetable peeler and either toss it, raw, into a salad or lightly sauté it as a side dish on it’s own, throw into some pasta or grains.
This salad is inspired by Vietnamese Bun – a big bowl of rice noodles with shredded vegetables, maybe a spring roll and some BBQ pork, a heap of fresh herbs and dry roasted peanuts bathed in Nuoc Cham, the ubiquitous Vietnamese dipping sauce. The other great thing about it is that it’s the perfect base to add leftover grilled meat, fish or seafood (as long as the flavours don’t clash) and you have a full meal in a bowl. You can let your imagination run wild, just make sure you don’t leave out the asparagus.
*store asparagus by wrapping the stalks in a damp paper towel
*before cooking, wash thoroughly
*BUY LOCAL AND IN SEASON!
For more information on Ontario Asparagus, go to the Asparagus Farmer’s of Ontario
To read about my trip on the Asparabus, hop on over to The Yum Yum Factor
Vietnamese Asparagus Rice Noodle Salad
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup fish sauce
2 cloves garlic, grated on a rasp
1 small Thai chili, minced (leave the seeds in if you want it to be quite hot)
In a lidded glass jar, mix together the hot water and sugar until the sugar dissolves by giving it a vigorous shake. Add in the lime juice, fish sauce, garlic and chili and give another shake to combine. Use right away or store in the fridge.
For The Salad
Approx 250 g package of thin rice vermicelli
Two handfuls of cilantro, washed and chopped
Two handfuls of mint, chopped
Two handful Thai basil (use regular basil if you can’t find Thai), washed and chopped
1 bunch of fresh, fat asparagus spears
1 large carrot, thinly julienned or shredded
1 cucumber, julienned
3 radishes, sliced as thinly as possible
1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts, finely chopped
3 scallions, sliced thin
Optional garnish: whole basil and mint leaves, lime wedges, thinly sliced Thai chili
Put the vermicelli in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Depending on fine your noodles are, it will take anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes to soften up – start checking after 3 minutes and when if feels like it’s nicely al dente, drain it right away, rinse with coldest tape water and drain. Set aside.
To prepare the asparagus ribbons, use a vegetable peeler to shave off thin strips off of each stalk. If the crowns pop off, don’t worry, just throw them in with the ribbons. A Y shape peeper is the easiest to use for this task but if you don’t have one, just persevere. If you want, you can do the carrot julienne using the peeler too – just peel off strips using the peeler and then, with a sharp knife, cut those strips into a fine julienne. You can also shred it on the large holes on your box shredder.
Put the cold, drained rice noodles in a big, deep bowl. Add the mint, basil and cilantro and give it a good toss – clean hands are the best way to mix this salad.
Add in the asparagus, carrot , cucumber and radish and toss again, mixing thoroughly. Pour some nuoc cham in and starting tossing the dressing into the salad. Keep adding the dressing, a bit at a time, until the noodles and vegetables are well coated.
Lastly, sprinkle the chopped peanuts and scallion over the top and serve. You can serve with a tray of whole basil and mint leaves, wedges of lime and thinly sliced Thai chili so people can add them to their salad if they like.