Smoky Asparagus (Vegan)
Hope you can pardon me for publishing another appetizer in a row. Actually, nothing prevents from serving this also as side dish. I’m just so thrilled about the flavors of the spring that I simply have to publish another recipe using spring vegetables.
This appetizer is especially for those who don’t have a charcoal grill, or who want to prepare a delicious and easy dish quickly and without too much pain. Combining liquid smoke with asparagus is a sure-fire hit. Hint of balsamic vinegar gives a slightly tangy touch, olive oil and salt are natural companions of the green goddess of spring.
Smoky Asparagus (Vegan)
1 pound = 450 g asparagus
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
2 tablespoons organic cold-pressed olive oil
unrefined sea salt to taste
- Wash and pat dry the asparagus.
- Trim and peel the asparagus.
- In a small bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar and the liquid smoke.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the asparagus, cover with a lid and sauté for 10–15 minutes or until preferred doneness is reached. Turn the asparagus halfway through to ensure even cooking.
- Season generously with salt.
- Turn off the heat. Remove the skillet from the stove and drizzle the mixture of vinegar and smoke evenly over the asparagus. Shake the skillet to get the seasonings evenly mixed.
- Divide between 2–4 serving plates and serve immediately.
|Per serving if 2 servings in total:
|Per serving if 4 servings in total:
Tips for preparing the Smoky Asparagus
It’s a good idea to wash the asparagus first as there might be some sand in the buds.
Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus spears by holding a spear on the end with one hand and on the middle with the other hand and bending until the asparagus breaks. The woody end will come off easily, since the asparagus breaks just from the correct point where the woody end and the juicy part meet.
I like my asparagus peeled. Both the taste and the mouthfeel are better if the asparagus spears are peeled. The sautéing time is naturally shorter if you peel the spears. If you are afraid of loosing too much material, you can make a stock from the peels and the woody ends. You can use the stock for a delicious and rich cream of asparagus soup.
For peeling the asparagus, take a vegetable peeler. Lay a spear on a cutting board or other flat and sturdy surface. Hold the tip and start peeling right below the bud and continue to the end.
I prefer my asparagus really salty. I simply cannot eat my asparagus without a good load of unrefined sea salt. Please adjust the saltiness to your liking. I just think this dish simply tastes better if there is enough salt.
If you like your asparagus green, then this appetizer is not for you. For this dish, the asparagus spears should get quite some brownish color while sautéing. Ideally the buds are crispy and the stalks soft on surface and crispy inside.
This recipe makes quite small servings, so you can easily double the amount of ingredients especially if you serve the dish as accompaniment. The asparagus is so delicious that it will disappear soon. You are warned
Developing the recipe
The idea for this appetizer became simply in the nearest grocery store. Green asparagus — one of my favorite veggies — was shamelessly cheap. I took a few bunches and was planning to grill those.
On the next isle there was a girl selling fresh strawberries. I didn’t take any, but at home I started to regret. I was still thinking of grilling the asparagus and was pondering some new twist with grilled asparagus. Something exciting and delicious.
I was thinking of topping the asparagus with shrimp sauce, but since I’ve had quite some shrimp lately (last week’s post, hint, hint), I had to think something else. Eureka! Strawberries and asparagus. What a fresh, springlike combination! In my eyes I saw beautifully green, grilled asparagus topped with bright red strawberry compote. Yum… sounded and looked so nice in my dreams. Well, the hardest part was to come, now I had to develop the recipe for this picturesque view with fireworks of flavors.
I thought asparagus wouldn’t need anything else than butter for sautéing and salt for seasoning. Keep it simple and let the asparagus be the shining star. But strawberry compote then… I wanted to keep it simple as well. A small kick, given by balsamic vinegar would go perfectly with strawberries. Actually, the combination of strawberries and balsamic vinegar is quite worn, so nothing new here. It’s just so good and perfect for spring that I wanted to take full advantage of it.
Because I knew what to do with the asparagus, I started the developing of the actual recipe from the strawberry compote. I took half a pound (230 g) fresh strawberries, cleaned them and cut into tiny cubes. I put the cubes in a small bowl and added two pinches (2 ml) good quality balsamic vinegar. Nice! The flavors just needed some time to marinate. While the strawberry compote was marinating, I prepared the asparagus to see how the flavor combination works in the end.
So, I sautéd the season’s first, trimmed and peeled asparagus in melted butter. I seasoned the asparagus with sea salt. I always use unrefined sea salt. It’s healthy and the flavor is unbeatable.
The asparagus was done, but there was plenty of delicious, salty butter lying on the bottom of the skillet. There I got the idea to combine the butter with the strawberry compote. I poured the delicious butter into the compote, stirred and spooned the compote over the asparagus.
Well, the result then. The flavor of strawberry was far too overpowering. There was simply strawberries to excess. And I cannot say if the combination really worked. I thought I had to reduce the amount of strawberries remarkably and then see if the combination of asparagus and strawberries really works.
For my next experiment I took 2 oz (60 g) strawberries, puréed them and added some balsamic vinegar. This puréed version still tasted too pronounced with asparagus. I thought a couple of drops liquid stevia might round the flavor, but adding stevia was a bad mistake! The dish tasted like asparagus with strawberry jam. You can try to imagine how BAD that was…
Even a very small amount of strawberries tasted too strong. I had to think something else. Once again I went through my pantry, pondering every single option. I wanted to keep the balsamic vinegar, but I needed to replace the strawberries with something more suitable.
There is just something primitively attractive in smoke flavor. When smelling smoke or especially tasting smoky flavors, I immediately see ancestors sitting around a bonfire eating together the catch of the day. It also brings to my mind the best ever asparagus I’ve eaten. It was in a restaurant in Barcelona, Spain. After a tough meeting the grilled, slightly smoky asparagus tasted heavenly. That side dish was simpler than simple: asparagus, olive oil, salt and black pepper. Grilled in a charcoal grill, right in the front of our eyes. Well, so much for that, I’m not going to bore you with my reverie any longer.
So, smoky flavor with asparagus. Sounded perfect. Since our charcoal grill was still standing dusty in the storage room after the winter, I couldn’t really think of grilling the asparagus. Moreover, I wanted something easier and quicker.
I had a bottle of liquid smoke and I thought that would be the perfect smoky addition. First I added the liquid smoke before sautéing the asparagus, but that somehow made the smoky flavor evaporate. The same happened with the balsamic vinegar. Weird. Then I drizzled the combination of balsamic vinegar and liquid smoke on the ready servings but without a spray bottle I couldn’t spread it evenly. The best result I got when I added the combination right before removing the asparagus from the skillet. Shaking the skillet made the flavors spread evenly all over.
The butter I replaced with olive oil to make the dish suitable for vegans and for those who cannot tolerate dairy. Actually, as much as I love to use butter, in my opinion olive oil gives a bit better result with this dish. I also omitted the balsamic vinegar in some experiments, but the result tasted too bland without it.
I still tried many other spice combinations. The best ones you find from the section below.
Tips for variation
If you would like to further spice and season the dish (in addition to balsamic vinegar and liquid smoke), here are some ideas:
- If you can tolerate dairy, replace the olive oil with butter.
- Add some minced, fresh garlic; always great with asparagus.
Add 2 teaspoons Garlic ‘n Herb seasoning, there are some sesame seeds in the seasoning — those are a great addition.
- Another good oldie: Top the dish with 1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly grated Parmesan. You can add the Parmesan after the other seasonings and leave the whole thing to stand for a while on the skillet. The cheese melts nicely and becomes deliciously crispy.
For a real exotic twist, add 1–2 pinches garam masala. I think this became my new favorite! Smoky flavor takes the combination to new spheres. It’s a crazy combination, but it works!
Good old black pepper goes also perfectly with the flavors. Grind some pepper on top of each serving.
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar gives just a hint of tang. Please feel free to use up to 1 tablespoon, if you prefer your asparagus with bite.
Lemon pepper gives also tang and spiciness. Add 1 teaspoon for a refreshing note.
There is a little bit of sweetness in the balsamic vinegar depending on how old or how good quality vinegar you use. However, if you would like to further round the flavors, you can add 1–2 drops liquid stevia. (Don’t worry, no strawberry jam here!) You can combine the vinegar, liquid smoke and the stevia, mix well and then drizzle the mixture over the asparagus.
My new favorite: asparagus with balsamic vinegar, liquid smoke and garam masala:
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