Spring has officially sprung, and the seasonal shift is quite evident at our local farmers’ markets.
Freshly harvested ranunculus flowers in an array of colors, baby artichokes and pixie tangerines are just a few items indicative of the season. Also beginning to emerge from the fields in the Lompoc area are vibrant spears of fresh asparagus, one of my absolutely favorite spring delights.
Dormant during the winter, the underground rhizomes that produce asparagus spears await the warming sun above to activate the arrival of the edible spears. A perennial herb, asparagus is quite the tasty culinary delight, with the stem and slightly feathery top edible.
The lower couple of inches of the stem is often discarded during preparation where the spear begins to dry up post-harvest, but asparagus picked fresh for market with little-to-no storage can be much more enjoyable and flavorful.
When preparing fresh asparagus, I typically coat the spears with a little olive oil, season and grill for just a minute or two on each side. I prefer my finished product to have a little bit of a snap to it.
The thickness of asparagus can vary significantly ranging from the width of a pencil to about a quarter-inch. I am usually more drawn toward the thicker spears, but do enjoy both.
Some cooks choose to take a vegetable peeler to the outside of the thick spears for a more textually pleasing finish, although I usually just leave them as they come.
This week I prepared a quinoa and black bean salad with fresh baby spinach and grilled asparagus spears. Topped with crumbled jalapeño chèvre, this is a healthy complete meal that you can pull out of the refrigerator and enjoy throughout the week. Also you can use this a side dish for any Easter spread.
Quinoa and Black Bean Salad with Grilled Asparagus Spears
1 bunch fresh asparagus
Olive oil, salt and pepper to season asparagus
3 cups cooked quinoa
1/2 cup dried black beans, soaked and simmered until just tender (or use canned black beans)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice from 1 lemon of lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
Aged balsamic vinegar
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
3 ounces jalapeño chèvre (or any chèvre you prefer)
Preheat grill to high heat. Discard about 1 inch from the base of the asparagus and season with a little salt and pepper. Grill about 1 minute per side, just enough to slightly cook and get a little outer char. Set aside and let cool, then cut into 1 inch pieces.
In a mixing bowl, add quinoa and black beans and very gently toss. In a small bowl combine salt, ground cumin, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. Mix well and then toss in quinoa black bean mixture.
Drizzle with aged balsamic and then gently toss in asparagus, spinach and cilantro leaves. Finish by topping with crumbled chèvre.
Yield: Serves about 4.