In April asparagus become affordable. They are reasonable, nourishing, low in calories and too good to pass up.
But if you drown them in lemon-butter night after night, the green stalks, quite frankly, lose their sex appeal. Trying something different usually revives the appetite. Here are a few suggestions for new combinations of ingredients and methods of preparation. PAINLESSLY PEELED ASPARAGUS VINAIGRETTE (Serves 4) 2 pounds medium thick asparagus (about 24 stalks) 3 quarts water (approximately) 1/4 cup olive oil 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste 1/8 teaspoons black pepper, or to taste.
Trim and discard white, woody ends of asparagus. Tie in a bundle. Bring water to full boil. Add asparagus and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. When cool enough to handle peel asparagus by cutting into the skin just below the tip with a paring knife and stripping it down to the butt end. (This method requires less effort and results in less waste than peeling raw asparagus. Peeling is not an affectation; it allows the flavour of the dressing to permeate the asparagus.)
Put peeled asparagus in a shallow dish. Combine oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and pour over asparagus. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Leave for about 1 hour. Serve at room temperature. STIR-FRIED CHICKEN WITH ASPARAGUS STALKS AND ALMONDS (Serve 4 as a main course) 2 pounds medium thick asparagus (about 24 stalks) 1 1/2 quarts water (approximately) 1 pound boneless chicken breast (1 whole roasting chicken breast or 2 whole broiling chicken breasts) 1 can (8-ounces) water chestnuts 1/4 cup peanut oil 1/2 cup whole blanched almonds 1/2 cup homemade or canned chicken stock 1 tablespoon water chestnuts flour or corn-starch 1 tablespoon naturally fermented soy sauce (such as Kikkoman or Wei-Chuan) 2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry 1/4 teaspoon sugar
Trim and discard white woody ends of asparagus. Cut stalks into half-inch pieces, slicing diagonally to make ovals. Reserves four inches at tips. Refrigerate tips for another use (see following recipe).
Bring water to a full boil. Add asparagus and cook until not quite tender, about 1 1/2 minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold water to stop cooking and pat dry on paper towels.
Cut chicken into 1/2-inch cubes. This is easiest to do if it is partially frozen. Cut water chestnuts into 1/4-inch slices.
In a wok or frying pan heat oil. Cook almonds over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Leave oil in wor or pan.
In a measuring cup dissolve water chestnut flour or cornstarch in a little stock, then combine with remaining stock soy sauce, rice wine or sherry and sugar.
Reheat oil. Add chicken and stir-fry until pale, about 2 minutes. Add asparagus and water chestnuts and stir-fry until hot, about half a minute. Stir stock mixture to redistribute water chestnut flour or cornstarch. Pour over chicken and vegetables and cook, stirring, until sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Serve with rice. HIGH PROTEIN CHEF SALAD (Serves 2) 24 asparagus tips (from 2 pounds, see previous recipe) 1 cup water (approximately) 1 bunch watercress (about 1/4-pound) 1 can (7 ounces) water-packed albacore tuna 2/3 cup cooked or canned chick peas 1 ounce blue cheese (about 2 tablespoons, firmly packed) 2/3 cup plain yogurt 2 tablespoons tomato paste 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard 1 tablespoon olive oil Juice of 1 lemon 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste 3 scallions, green parts only
Put asparagus tips on a rack or other steaming device. Place in saucepan. Add water to just below level of rack. Cover and cook over boiling water until tender, about 5 minutes. Rinse under scold water to stop cooking. Wash watercress in cold water. Dry on a dishtowel. Rip into pieces. Drain tuna and break into small chunks. Drain chick peas.
In a measuraing cup mash blue cheese with a fork. Add yogurt, tomato paste, mustard, oil, lemon juice, and pepper. Mix gently. (If overbeaten, yogurt will loqefy.)
Arrange asparagus, watercress, tuna and chick peas on two plates. Refrigerate. When ready to serve, spoon half of dressing over each and top with snipped scallions