AN EARLY HARVEST
June is asparagus season where I live, and every Thursday morning, I stop at the downtown farmers market on my way to work to buy a carton of fresh asparagus. I buy from the same vendor every week--a tall, lean fellow with blue eyes and a green felt hat. He's soft spoken and unassuming, yet everyone knows he has the best asparagus spears in town. If you don't get to him before noon, you won't go home with his asparagus.
I love asparagus three ways: steamed and served with a little butter and lemon juice; steamed and served over pasta with a sprinkling of fresh parmiggiano reggiano; or steamed and stirred into a favorite Asian salad called kung pao tofu. Admittedly, the first two options are simple and quick, while the tofu is detail work and takes a little time. But, the complex, full flavors of the salad are worth the trouble for this slim green vegetable, which is at its peak for just a few weeks in early summer.
KUNG PAO TOFU
3 tbsp tamari
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp unsulphured blackstrap molasses
1 tsp fresh, minced ginger
1 package extra firm tofu, drained, and chopped into large bite-sized pieces
1) Combine the marinade ingredients (except the tofu) in a medium-sized glass bowl. Stir to blend.
2) Add the bite-sized tofu and let it marinate for 20 minutes.
3) Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the chunks of tofu on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to an hour until dark brown and slightly crunchy. Remove from oven and cool while you make the dressing.
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
2 tsp tamari
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp minced garlic
1-1/2 tsp minced ginger
1-1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp cornstarch
1) Bring all the ingredients (except the cornstarch) to a boil in a small saucepan.
2) Whisk in the cornstarch and continue stirring until the dressing thickens (just a minute or two). Set aside while you cut up the vegetables for the salad.
1 bunch asparagus, chopped and steamed til tender-crunchy (about 6-7 minutes)
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 green or yellow bell pepper, julienned
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3 tbsp (or more, to taste) toasted cashews
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
In a large bowl, combine the chopped vegetables, the baked tofu, and the warm dressing. Serve over rice of your choice (white or brown basmati rice is tasty). Enjoy!