More than just a side dish
By Sean RiveraPosted Jul 18, 2012
I couldn’t stop thinking about my balsamic reduction that I wrote about last week. Not only is the balsamic reduction delicious and easy to make, but there is always plenty leftover. And just like some extra spending cash, it burns a hole in my pocket!
So what else is there to do with balsamic reduction? As I planned a menu recently, I instantly went to one of my favorite veggies – Asparagus. I had the privilege to make this Grilled Asparagus dish with tomatoes, feta cheese, and balsamic reduction for some prominent politicians and business professionals, who indulged on the dish as their appetizer. Although I prepared it as an appetizer, quite often I will make this dish in a larger version as an entrée. The health benefits of asparagus are numerous; its perfect to grill and it highlights the rich overtones of balsamic like they were made for each other. I started thinking about everything I have learned over the years about asparagus, apart from the purportedly specific odor it emits in your pee (which we will NOT discuss in this article!).
For starters, asparagus is a green veggie, which means it is nutrient-dense and is one of those “power foods” that you hear so much about it the news – akin to blueberries, red cabbage, avocados, etc. As in most veggies, asparagus is low in calories, low in sodium, and has NO cholesterol or fat! But it doesn’t stop there. As far as nutrients go, asparagus has almost every nutrient that can be found in most multi-vitamins: Vitamins B6, A, C, E, and K, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Potassium, Folic Acid…and the list goes on and on. What is exciting for anyone that may have Diabetes, or Metabolic Syndrome (a pre-cursor to Diabetes), is that it contains Chromium. Chromium is a trace mineral that helps insulin process glucose correctly.
Now there is significant evidence that asparagus is a powerful anti-oxidant that helps fight free radicals that may cause cancer. The FDA has even reported that asparagus is the highest-tested food containing glutathione, which is the strongest anti-carcinogen and anti-oxidant that our human bodies produce.
So what’s the word?
The word is Eat Asparagus if you’re on a health kick or just love this spear-shaped member of the Lily family.
Finding the right asparagus
Asparagus can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, sautéed, roasted, or (my favorite) grilled. You want to look for a firm stalk about 10-12 inches long. It should not bend over or be able to be made into a circle without breaking. The leaves at the tip should be just slightly tinted purple with closed compact leaves. Ideally you want all your spears to be about the same width so that they can cook at the same time. I find the thicker the stalk, the tenderer of an inside you get. What you must do first, though, is to rinse your spears well, cut off about ½ to 1 inch of the bottom, and then use a vegetable peeler to remove some of the thick, woody green exterior at the base.
Making your asparagus sing
Although it might seem like a multi-step process and you might wonder why go through all this trouble for just a veggie, but when you taste this dish, you will want to make it again and again – I promise! When asparagus is grilled with slightly charred etchings and tremendous caramelized flavors, then dressed to perfection, you will wonder if you are, perhaps, a vegetarian at heart. As a completely satisfying dish, you may want to include some grilled fish or just some nice, crusty French bread to finish your dining pleasure.
You’ll want your grill heated up and ready to go. Once you’ve trimmed your asparagus, blanche it in salted boiling water for about 3-5 minutes. Toss in a piece of lemon rind in your boiling water, as it adds a certain vibrancy to any vegetable. You want slightly to undercook the asparagus so that it has turned a brilliant green and just starts to bend when you take it out the water. You will then shock it into a large bowl filled with ice water. This will stop the cooking process so that it doesn’t get mushy. Now that your asparagus has been properly blanched, you can toss it with some extra-virgin olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh cracked black pepper. Grill it until you have char marks on your spears to your desired color. Preferably, use a charcoal or gas grill outside, as this will produce a fair amount of smoke. Plating is the last step, and this is the fun part! Find a clean plate and get creative. Arrange your asparagus then add some fresh tomatoes. For this dish, I used some gold and red pear tomatoes that were perfectly ripe. When you are cooking at home, try Roma or grape tomatoes, or anything that looks like it is the ripest.
Pour some of your reserved balsamic reduction on top of the veggies, sprinkle a little feta cheese, and then maybe some more of your balsamic. It’s up to your taste buds’ discretion!
Drop me a line to Food@DigBatonRouge.com and send in pics of your creation!