For years I was kind of jealous of people who loved asparagus because they just seemed to relish the eating experience so much. Every spring, I’d hear giddy little squeals of delight at the farmer’s market and in the grocery store: “Thank goodness it’s asparagus season!” So each year, I would dutifully try it – again – and hope that my palate has “matured” enough to enjoy it with everyone else. But time after time, I would take one bite and a weird green-bitter flavor would bounce around on my tongue and that was it.
Then about two years ago, I decide to try a different tactic. Maybe starting with a pile of naked asparagus wasn’t the answer – maybe it needed to be “in” something. First I tried Shaved Asparagus Pizza – which is basically bread, sauce, cheese, and a little bit of asparagus and lemon. Pretty good. I could do that. So on a whim, I made this Cashew Asparagus Pilaf, an adaptation of an old Armenian recipe. As we sat down to dinner, I took a my first bite, fully expecting that bitter bleck once again. But low and behold, instead of strange and unpleasant, my mouth filled with an amazing complexity of flavors! I loved it!! Somehow, the cashews and lemon provide exactly what is needed to bring out the lovely, delicate sweetness of the asparagus with none of the weird aftertaste. At least for me. It was so delicious I couldn’t stop eating it.
- 4 Tablespoons vegan butter, divided (I use Earth Balance Buttery Sticks**)
- 2 oz uncooked spaghetti, broken into 1-inch pieces (make sure it is vegan-friendly)
- ¼ cup minced onion
- ½ tsp minced garlic
- 1 cups uncooked jasmine rice (or your favorite – adjust cooking time accordingly)
- 3 cups light vegetable broth
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ lb fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 – 2-inch pieces
- ½ cup raw cashew halves (or more!)
- Juice and zest of ½ lemon
- Melt 3 tablespoons vegan butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Increase heat to medium and stir in spaghetti pieces, cooking until coated with the melted butter and lightly browned.
- Stir onion into the saucepan and cook about 2 minutes, until translucent. Stir in garlic and rice,* and saute for about 5 minutes. Pour in vegetable broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring a couple of times, until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed. Check and add liquid as needed toward the end of cooking time.
- While the rice mixture is cooking, melt remaining vegan butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add asparagus pieces and cashews and sauté until asparagus is tender. (Be careful not to overcook it!) Season with a little kosher salt to taste.
- When rice mixture is done cooking, remove from heat and stir in asparagus and cashew halves. Sprinkle with lemon juice and zest. Serve warm.
I want to touch for just a moment on the subject of “vegan butter.” The recipe above relies heavily on the buttery taste of a good vegan butter option to make it vegan-friendly. (Obviously, if you aren’t a vegan, you can just use real butter.) But either way, you might wonder, “Why not just save some money and use margarine?” It’s a fair question, and one I’ve asked myself, so here’s my two cents: I try really hard to provide the best ingredients I can for my family while staying inside my budget. And sometimes that budget demands I make compromises – for example, not every piece of produce I bring into the house is organic. I wish it was, but sometimes I just can’t swing it. However, margarine is one thing I just cannot bring myself to buy anymore, no matter how much money it may save me. Every day other day, another study reveals new evidence against the trans fats and hydrogenated or interesterified oils found in margarine; but more than that, margarine just feels “wrong.” That’s the best answer I have for my own choices – you’ll have to make your own.