I adore asparagus. During its all-too-brief season, I put it in pastas, risottos, soups, quiches and salads. So, being a globalveggie, I started thinking about asparagus recipes that are ‘ethnic’, spicy, or just a bit different from the usual tried-and-tested, run of the mill stuff.
Then I remembered a traditional recipe once described by my Chinese friend Jasper Lee, in which tender, leaf-green asparagus is simply stir-fried with black beans and sesame and eaten with mounds of warm, fluffy, slightly sticky rice. I tried it – adapted it a little – and instantly fell in love with it. Here is the recipe.
Preserved black soy beans in brine are available in jars in Chinese supermarkets. I prefer the dried preserved version, flavoured with ginger, which comes in terracotta or stone jars. Whichever type of preserved beans you buy, you may want to rinse them to remove their saltiness before use. The beans have earthy, slightly gritty, flavour and texture that adds substance and body to the still-tender but often chunky late season asparagus.
Chilli bean sauce is a common ingredient in Chinese cookery, and is made from the usual yellow soy beans combined with fiery red chillies. Serve this stir-fry with plain steamed rice and a tofu dish, or simply perched on top of egg-fried rice.
1 lb/ 500g asparagus
1 tablespoon groundnut (peanut) oil
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely grated
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons preserved black beans, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon chilli bean sauce
5 fl oz/ 150 ml light vegetable stock (instant is fine)
¼ teaspoon white sugar
4 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon dark toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, lightly toasted in a small saucepan
A pinch of salt (optional)
1. Trim the asparagus, cutting off the tough ends of the stalk at the bottom. Slice the asparagus diagonally into 3-inch lengths.
2. Heat a wok on high heat until it is hot. Add the oil. When the oil is hot – which will only take a few seconds – add the ginger, garlic and black beans, and stir-fry quickly for a few seconds. The aromatics should turn a couple of shades darker, but must not turn brown or burn.
3. Add the chilli bean sauce, followed by the asparagus a few seconds later. Stir-fry quickly and continuously for about 2 minutes until the asparagus is nearly tender.
4. Add the stock, sugar and rice wine. Cook on high heat for 2 more minutes, stir-frying continuously.
5. Add the sesame oil and sesame seeds. Stir thoroughly, and adjust the seasoning, adding a little salt if necessary. Serve immediately.