In a pinch, I’m a sucker for slicing ’em up raw. No, not a raw foodist, and yes, hate it when restaurants charge $15 for a plate of a few slices of freshly shaved zucchini or mushrooms drowned in olive oil and call it something like “carpaccio” because I know they only sliced maybe a fifth of one zucchini or just one mushroom to make a whole plate of these delicate little slivers. I know it because I can also do it at home. And we all should, too.
But I like to say only when you have the freshest possible produce (and hey, that goes for meat or seafood-based carpaccios, too), because that’s when its texture really shines and becomes more than the sum of what’s on the plate. This route is all about ingredients at their utmost prime. And when making fresh salads, that’s usually the case.
Because it’s the beginning of asparagus season in the Northeast, it’s that time for them. There’s not much else in season, except our first hothouse tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squashes(!) lately. But let’s enjoy the asparagus, because when the season for it’s gone, it’s really gone. And tomatoes will be here for a while.
I had the most satisfying experience recently of grilled asparagus: the juiciest, tenderest and freshest stalks were glossed with olive oil, speckled with sea salt and pepper and thrust on the grill for only a few moments before they were turned and swiftly taken out. Afterwards, they were spritzed with the half of a lemon, and no utensils required, became an easy-grab party snack throughout the night. This was for a friend’s surprise birthday party, and I’d bought two big bunches of asparagus for the occasion. This friend was one of a sadly dwindling number of mine who has an outdoor space, so we decided to get her out of the house for a few hours and surprise her once she got back home with a party. It turned out well. And it worked well for all of us, too, because we got the rare chance to grill and eat outdoors (and wear party hats and hide underneath the deck when she came out).
But because I had that euphoric opportunity to grill spring asparagus already, I was looking to do something a little different with my next bunch. I don’t think I’ve had raw asparagus before. But I bought some French breakfast radishes at the Greenmarket, too, and these are best eaten raw (unless you have a grill, which could be cool). So I went with that, and mixed them together in a salad. In went a dollop of spicy, whole-grain mustard for some added interest, and textural appeal since the bloated seeds really pop in your mouth in a nice way. I didn’t have any hard, aged cheeses around to shave up along with the vegetable shreds, so the mustard component also fulfilled the added flavor intrigue bit.
Gobbled this up with a piece of toast and a poached egg for breakfast. It’s nice to have a fresh, little wake-me-up salad as opposed to heavy breakfast omelets or scrambles. Why not surprise yourself with it sometime?
Asparagus and Radish Salad with Whole-Grain Mustard Dressing
(makes about 2 servings)
5-6 stalks asparagus, tough ends trimmed where they naturally snap off
3-4 radishes, ends trimmed
for the dressing:
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1-2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped chives or shallot (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Using a mandoline or other vegetable slicer, thinly slice the asparagus on a bias for longer, oval-shaped pieces. Thinly slice the radishes. Combine in a bowl.
Whisk the lemon juice and mustard and slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking until emulsified. Add the optional chopped chives or shallots and salt and pepper to taste. Toss with the vegetables and enjoy immediately.
(for 2 servings)
5 stalks asparagus (at $4/bunch): $2.00
4 radishes (at $2/bunch): $1.00
½ lemon: $0.25
2 teaspoons mustard: $0.25
1 tablespoon olive oil, salt, pepper: $0.20
Two brownie points(!). You can count asparagus and radishes both as superfoods, in super surprisingly similar ways. Asparagus, even though they may not look as green as spinach or kale, has incredible amounts of Vitamin K and antioxidants as well as fiber to boot. And radishes are rich in Vitamin C as well as fiber, too. They’re also known to really help destruct free radishes in your system and keep your bones strong (as well as cause “radish burps,” my frequent foe).
Eight maple leaves. It’s easy to score high on the earth-cost calculator when you’re only making a small side salad with two low-impact veggies in it. But actually, you can do a lot worse even when making a small salad than this. Consider the water-intensive baby greens that are shipped over from drought-stricken California, as opposed to some local fiber-iffic veggies. Not all salads are equally earth-friendly as the ones you might come up with other stuff that’s in season locally.