East Meets West: A is for Artichokes and Asparagus

Good morning everyone,

We’ve finally reached the vegetable section of The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.  Today we’re tackling their artichoke and asparagus recipes, turning them into vaishno dishes, using ingredients that are available in our tiny northern town and adding, to some, a little South Asian flavour.

There are five recipes all together: Sautéed Baby Artichokes, Stuffed Artichokes, Asparagus Tips Oriental, Herbed Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese and Asparagus and Shiitake Sauté.  These recipes posed a variety of small challenges.  Baby artichokes are not something I’ve ever found here and fully grown artichokes are a rarity.  Shiitake mushrooms are also a rarity here though I can find a canned (yuck) variety.  We had to substitute the chicken stock, vermouth and Parmesan cheese in some of the recipes and we moved the Oriental asparagus a little further to the west.

Our versions are Steamed Artichokes with Garlic and Ginger Butter, Satinder’s Stuffed Artichokes, South Asian Asparagus Tips, Spiced Asparagus with Warm Curry Sauce, and Asparagus and Mushroom Stir Fry.

Steamed Artichokes with Garlic and Ginger Browned Butter

We can’t get baby artichokes where I live so I went with the full grown variety.  You can’t really just saute these because the choke is present and really needs to be removed.  So for this recipe, I was looking for a reasonably simple artichoke idea that could be prepared easily with a handful of ingredients.  When I was in law school a roommate used to steam artichokes in the microwave and eat them with a little garlic butter.  Delicious and reasonably simple.  Our steamed artichokes are going in a pot, rather than the microwave but still this recipe is easy peasy.  This recipe will make 4 portions.

2 quart’s Light Vegetable Stock (recipe here) or low-sodium commercial vegetable stock
4 cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
4 whole artichokes
1/2 lemon

For the garlic and ginger butter:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4″ ginger, peeled and grated

Put the vegetable stock, garlic, bay leaves, and a little salt and pepper in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Prepare the artichokes in the meantime. Wash carefully under cold water. Using a stainless steel knife, cut off the stems close to the base. Pull off the lower petals. Cut off the top 1″ or so of the artichoke and rub with half a lemon. Place the artichokes in the simmering stock. Cover the pot and allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Artichokes are done when you can insert a knife into the bottom without resistance.

While the artichokes are simmering, prepare the garlic and ginger butter. Melt the unsalted butter in a small pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger once melted and cook for about 5 minutes or so. Pour into small bowls for dipping.

To eat artichokes, we pull off one leaf at a time, dip in the butter, and scrape the meaty part near the base off with our teeth. There are purple leaves in the middle which you remove (the choke) and also some fibrous bits. The heart is underneath those leaves and fibrous bits.

Satinder’s Stuffed Artichokes
I would eat the artichokes all by themselves but this stuffing, which is similar to one I use at Thanksgiving celebrations is a delicious addition! This recipe will make two meal-sized portions.

2 large artichokes
1/2 lemon
3/4 cup Light Vegetable Stock (recipe here)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
1/2 cup rennet-free mozzarella cheese
2 tbls unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp fresh oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Trim off the artichoke stems, cutting them flush with the bottom. Rub the cut with lemon. Using a sharp, stainless steel knife, slice 1″ off the top of the artichokes. Rub the top with lemon. Trim off the prickly point of each leaf with kitchen shears and rub the leaves with lemon. Arrange the artichokes upright in a microwave safe bowl. Pour in 1/2 cup of the stock, and cover with a microwave safe cover. Cool on full power until the stem end feels tender when pierced with the point of a knife, about 12 minutes. Let the artichokes stand for 5 minutes. Reserve the liquid in the bowl.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the onion, bread crumbs, mozzarella, melted butter, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper and remaining 1/4 cup of stock. Halve each artichoke lengthwise. Scrape out the fuzzy choke and the small, purple leaves in the centre. Arrange the two halves on a plate, fill each half with the stuffing mixture. Cook for another 3 minutes on full power. Let stand 3 minutes, then serve.

South Asian Asparagus Tips
When asparagus does arrive in our stores in my little town in northern Canada, it is passing its prime and becoming woody and wilted. I refresh them by putting them upright in a bowl of cool water and putting them in the refrigerator but this only does so much. Because of this, it must almost always be cooked and used the same day.

The original recipe called for East Asian ingredients like sesame oil and soy sauce. Though we like those ingredients, I avoid the sodium in soy sauce as much as possible. So we’ve added some fusion flavour to this recipe and removed the salt. Trust me, you won’t miss it.

1 kg asparagus, trimmed
2 tbls ghee (recipe here)
1 tbls ginger and garlic paste (see tips)
1/2 tsp honey
1 tbls sesame seeds
1/4 cup cashews
1 spring onion, thinly sliced

Start by dry roasting the sesame seeds and cashews separately in a pan over medium low heat until fragrant. Set these aside. Cut off the top 2″ of the asparagus, reserving the stems for another use. Heat the ghee in a wok or large skillet until hot. Add the asparagus tips and cook, over medium heat, for 3 minutes, tossing frequently. Add the ginger and garlic paste and drizzle the honey in. Allow to cook for 1 minute. Add the sesame seeds and cashew nuts and continue to cook another minute. Garnish with scallions and serve immediately.

Tips: To make a ginger and garlic paste, peel and chop equal amounts of ginger and garlic. Add these to a grinder with a little salt and process until a reasonably smooth puree is formed. You can also do this in a mortar and pestle or, with the help of a little water, in a blender.

Spiced Asparagus With Warm Curry Sauce
The authors of the New Basics Cookbook are obviously fans of Italian flavours. We are too but they often come with Parmesan cheese, like this recipe did and honestly, I wanted more familiar flavours to serve my family. This asparagus recipe is livened up with the flavours of India without being overwhelming.

1 kg asparagus, trimmed
1 tsp salt
1 tbls cup ghee or canola, bran or extra virgin olive oil
1 onions, chopped
1 tbls garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped ginger
2 tsp curry powder (we use a Madras curry powder, which is quite hot)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbls water
3/4 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup natural yogurt
1 tbls chopped fresh coriander
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbls chopped fresh coriander
1 tbls fresh lemon juice

Trim the asparagus by breaking off the woody ends (if you bend the asparagus they will naturally snap at the correct spot). Rinse well in cold water. Using a pot large enough to hold the whole asparagus, fill the pot with 1″ of water and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and reduce to a simmer. Cover and allow the asparagus to steam for about 2 minutes for thin asparagus and up to 6 for thick asparagus. The asparagus should be firm yet tender when pierced. Remove from heat, drain and set aside in a covered casserole dish.

In a saute pan over medium-high heat, add the ghee and allow it to heat. Add to onion, garlic and ginger and cook until the onion turns translucent, stirring frequently, about 6 minutes. Stir in the curry powder, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cayenne pepper and 1 tbls water and cook for 1 more minute. Add the tomato paste, yogourt, 1 tbls coriander and 1/2 tsp salt. Pour in remaining water. and bring the mixture to a boil. Sprinkle in the garam masala and remaining coriander. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Arrange the asparagus on a plate and sprinkle with lemon juice. Pour the curry sauce over the asparagus and serve.

Asparagus and Mushroom Saute

The original recipe called for shiitake muchrooms which are only very rarely available in the stores where I live. We used crimini for their nutty flavour. You can also use wild mushrooms, if you like. The original recipe also called for dry vermouth, which we’ve substituted for unsweetened white grape juice. We’ve reduced the amount of butter as well, since no one really needs that much butter. Shallots are sometimes available but when they’re not, we use spring onion (just the white bulbs).

1/2 kg thin asparagus, trimmed
1/2 kg fresh crimini mushrooms
2 tbls unsalted butter
1/3 cup minced shallots
2 tbls minced fresh ginger
1/4 tsp salt
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup unsweetened white grape juice
1 tsp orange zest

Trim the asparagus by breaking off the woody ends (if you bend the asparagus they will naturally snap at the correct spot). Remove the stems from the mushrooms and reserve them for another use. Cut the mushrooms into 1/4″ thick strips. Melt the butter in a large skillet, and add the shallots and ginger. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden, about 3 minutes. Add the asparagus and mushrooms. Season with a little salt and pepper, and cook another 2 minutes. Add the grape juice and cover the skillet. Cook 2 minutes, shaking the skillet once or twice. Sprinkle with orange zest and cook 1 minute more. Serve immediately.

We’ll get on with this project next time with some grains.


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