After a sunny day disappears in the west and we wait for something cold and wet to fall from the sky, my spirits drop faster than the temperature. We’re all anxious for this spring to get here, and there’s nothing we can do to speed it up, but maybe we can invoke a wee bit of the sunshine right in our kitchens.
Asparagus. — Image by Thinkstock.com
Creamy Asparagus and Green Pea Soup
Asparagus yells spring right out of your fridge, but if you’re not quite ready to give up the long underwear it also makes a comfortingly warm lunch or first course in this delicious soup.
And yes, I know how expensive asparagus is, but this recipe makes eight generous portions and uses every bit of the vegetable. The green peas not only bring down the cost but also add vibrant colour and a slightly sweet taste, as well as a great textural quality that you won’t get from asparagus alone.
Just a note about combining dairy and acid. If you substitute milk — even full-fat — for the whipping cream you are risking having a curdled mixture. If you are lightening up the fat then use only the lemon zest, not the juice and then you can go with skim milk. Another trick is to add a diced starchy potato to the pot along with the asparagus. Blend it quite aggressively and the mixture will be thick and smooth, missing just that hint of velvet that nothing but cream can bring.
1 lb. sliced shallots
2 medium sweet onions, diced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. each olive oil and butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 lb. fresh asparagus
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 large strips lemon peel—none of the white part
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups thawed frozen green peas
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (or white pepper for purists)
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt, to taste
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Fry shallots, onions and celery in oil and butter in a Dutch oven until translucent and just starting to take on a little golden colour around the edges. Add garlic and cook another minute or two, until fragrant.
Wash and drain asparagus and cut off only the tiniest bit of the woody bottoms. Cut off the tips two inches from the top of the stalks and set aside. Cut remaining stalks into 1/4-inch pieces and add to pot along with chicken broth, lemon peel and thyme. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Add green peas and cook another 10 minutes, until vegetables are very tender.
Fish out and discard thyme stalks and lemon peel.
Puree in small batches in a blender — or use an immersion blender or even food processor if you like. Strain through a fine sieve and return to pot. Bring back up to the barest burble and add reserved asparagus tips and pepper. Cook together five minutes, until tips are barely tender. Stir in cream and taste. Add salt as needed and lemon juice and serve, preferably with chunky herb and garlic croutons floating on top and maybe a small spoonful of sour cream or yogurt, just for garnish, of course.
Crunchy Chicken and Noodle Salad
These flavours and colours won’t bring spring, either, but they’ll sure make your kitchen feel sunny. This salad is hearty but bursting with freshness, even when purchased from the bleak aisles of the grocery store this time of year. Feel free to substitute any vegetables you like, and leftover pork is just as good as chicken.
If you’re cutting back on calories omit the chow mein noodles and cut the amounts of vegetable oil and chicken in half. Use bottled Asian salad dressing if you prefer but it’s so easy to make and, I think, will make you happier with the result. This recipe serves six.
2 oranges, divided
3 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tsp. honey
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. bottled chili sauce or paste of your choice, more or less to taste
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
2 cups bean sprouts
2 cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 cup green snap peas
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup unsalted cashews
2 cups crispy chow mein noodles, optional
For the dressing, combine orange juice from one of the oranges, soy sauce, vinegar, honey, sesame oil and chili sauce. Whisk in vegetable oil and refrigerate until ready to use.
Toss together cabbage, bean sprouts, chicken, green onions, carrots, celery, snap peas and cilantro. Pour dressing over the top and stir to coat everything thoroughly. Peel and segment the second orange and gently fold into salad.
Sprinkle on the cashews and noodles just before serving.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o
The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s,
NL, A1E 4N1.