Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Asparagus Salad (Saandheko Kurelo)

Guest blogging for Hippocrene Cooks this week is Jyoti Pathak, a founding member of the Association of Nepalese in America. She headed the cookbook committee of the association and spearheaded the production of the first Nepali cookbook self-published in Americas in 1986. Jyoti authored Taste of Nepal, which has been chosen as the “Best Foreign Cuisine Book” by Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2008. This week showcases two appetizing recipes from the well-received volume.

Asparagus is one of the most delectable spring vegetables and is considered the king of vegetables in Nepal. My husband and I have been growing asparagus in our home garden for several years and have been cooking it in various different ways. I like to prepare this dish when the freshest asparagus of the season comes out. This dish is prepared by boiling the asparagus, giving it a cold-water bath to preserve the green color, and pairing it with spices. Although it is called a salad dish, I serve it more as a side vegetable dish with freshly boiled rice, lentils, other sautéed vegetables, and warm Nepali breads.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed & sliced
diagonally into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 green onion (white and light green parts),
thinly sliced
1 fresh mild or hot green chili pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
3 whole Szechwan pepper (timmur),
finely ground with a mortar and pestle
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice

(Note: Szechwan pepper (timmur) is also known as Nepali pepper. This is a highly pungent, sharp black pepper, but it has an entirely different flavor and is, in fact, not related to the black pepper family. It has a rough, wrinkled, and uneven surface and the aroma lies in the split covering of the pod, not in the seed. Nepalese describes its taste as per-peraune, which means "biting taste with an anesthetic feeling on the tongue." It should be used only in moderation; otherwise, it will overpower the dish.)

Bring a medium-size pot of salted water to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook, as they will become waterlogged and tasteless. Immediately drain the asparagus in a colander, and run cold water over it to halt the cooking. Place the asparagus in a medium-size bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the cilantro, green onion, green chili, oil, garlic, ginger, and
timmur and mix well. Add the spice mixture to the asparagus and toss gently to mix well. Taste and add the salt and lemon juice, if necessary. Cover the bowl and allow the flavors to set for at least 10 minutes at room temperature. Transfer the asparagus to a bowl. If you are not serving it right away, cover and refrigerate until serving time.

Pictures courtesy of Jyoti Pathak.

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