CHARLOTTE – You’ve been waiting all winter for this. In North Carolina, spring isn’t just when the grass turns green and the azaleas explode in pink and red. It’s when some of the best fresh foods of the year show up, too.
Step into a farmers market this time of year and it’s hard to know what to buy first. It’s all so green and crisp, just begging to get in your kitchen and on your plate.
Asparagus is one thing you shouldn’t resist. High in fiber, vitamins C and A and folic acid, it’s one of the best things you can eat. But hurry – once the real summer heat gets here, asparagus disappears quickly.
The other green treat that shows up with asparagus are sugar snap peas. These are fat pods filled with green peas, and you can eat the whole thing, pod and all. Just snip off the end with leaves and pull to see if there’s a string. Otherwise, cooking snap peas is easy. Bring some water and a little salt to boil, drop them in and set a timer. They’ll be perfectly done, tender and a little crisp, in three minutes.
The problem with asparagus and sugar snap peas this time of year is that we’re tempted to load them up with fattening things like butter or hollandaise sauce. You don’t have to do that, though.
Asparagus is so tender this time of year that you don’t even need to cook it. Get some thick spears, grab a vegetable peeler and shave it into ribbons. It will be juicy and crisp, with a light grassy flavor. Toss the shaved ribbons and tender tips with lightly cooked sugar snap peas and a bright dressing tinged with sesame oil and white miso and it’s like a plate full of spring.
By the way, if you haven’t played with miso, it’s worth getting to know. Made from fermented soybeans, it has a lot of health benefits. Even though it’s high in sodium, the fermentation adds beneficial nutrients to your gut, and research is showing that even the sodium can be better for you than regular salt. In Japan, it’s believed to improve digestion and a strengthen immune systems. It’s easy to find in most supermarkets, often in the refrigerated case in the produce department. If you like to keep it local, look for the Miso Master brand. It’s made in Rutherfordton.
Shaved asparagus and spring pea salad
- 1 pound thick asparagus spears
- 1/4 to 1/2 pound sugar snap peas (see note on substitution)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger (about 1-inch piece, peeled)
- 2 teaspoons white miso
- 1 tablespoon plain or toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Snap off the woody ends of about 8 stalks of asparagus. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus stalks into ribbons into a salad bowl, working up the stalk until just below the spear tips. Add the spear tips.
Trim the ends of the sugar snap peas if necessary. Fill a small bowl with ice and cold water. Bring a small pan of water to boil; add the salt. Add the sugar snap peas, reduce heat and simmer 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and toss in the ice water to cool and set the color. Add to the asparagus.
In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, brown sugar and ginger. Whisk in the miso paste until dissolved. Whisk in the sesame oil and olive oil. Add enough dressing to the asparagus and peas to coat lightly. (You may not need all the dressing.)
Serve cold or at room temperature.
Note: If you don’t have sugar snap peas, you can substitute frozen peas, rinsed until thawed, or snow peas.