I hated asparagus as a kid. My mom would often force unfair amounts on my sister and me that we would then have to choke down. Despair, that was the theme of those meals. (Not that we ever complained. My mom made sure there were no picky eaters in her house.) I also hated—and excuse me for saying this but I feel like it’s the white elephant in the room—how it made my urine smell. The odor was so freakish, like did it really come out of my body? (I really hope this phenomenon isn’t unique to me, because it would be really embarrassing for me to admit this fact only to learn that no one experiences the same… issue.)
Someone once asked me in fifth grade what vegetable I would choose to be if I had to be a vegetable, and without even hesitating, I said asparagus. “Because it tastes gross, so nobody would want to eat me,” I explained. Come to think of it, I said this before my entire class, and my teacher, Mr. Ford, laughed heartily. Kids say the darndest things, and always with such earnestness.
Since then, I’ve come to a peaceful truce with the vegetable. It makes its appearance at just the right time every year, right around when my body starts calibrating for the changing season. You know how it goes. There’s the reappearance of green, the sudden bursting of the world into a verdant, shady paradise, and your palate, without warning, shifts gears, and desires all things vegetal.
Oh wait. Spring, with all its connotations of reawakening and rejuvenation, stretching out and the wiping clean of slates, is actually a pretty new experience for me. California winters are hardly unendurable, therefore I’ve never truly appreciated the depths from which one can emerge. Nonetheless, despite having just been initiated to the full effect of this glorious season, the tug for fresh produce is instinctual and urgent.
So far into this season, we’ve been enjoying asparagus steamed or parboiled. While these are the most straightforward of preparations, with nothing but a dash of soy sauce or a sprinkle of salt for flavor, they are usually the most satisfying. I love having asparagus as a side to a bowl of rice or noodles.
This tempura, though less virtuous, is still elegantly simple. Equal amounts of flour and mineral water result in a light, crisp top layer covering a steaming, sumptuous mass of asparagus underneath. Post-deep-fry, the vegetable has a melt-in-the-mouth quality, which I like contrasted against a soy sauce and ginger dipping sauce.
Also, FYI, tempura can be reinvigorated with some time in the oven. I tossed some—hours-old, mind you, and soggy—onto a pizza, and it tasted great.
Adapted from Goop
12 medium stalks of asparagus, trimmed, dried, and sliced in half
Vegetable oil for frying
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sparkling water
sea salt & freshly-ground pepper
Fill a medium heavy saucepan with about three inches of oil. Heat it up to 375 degrees F.
Place the flour in a medium bowl, then slowly whisk in the water until a smooth paste forms. Do this right before you start deep-frying so that the batter retains the carbonation from the water (which results in a light, airy tempura). When ready, coat the asparagus in the batter, then gently place it in the oil. Don’t crowd the pan or the asparagus pieces will stick together. Fry until golden, about 2 minutes, then place on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with lemon wedges and soy sauce/ponzu sauce/etc.