I’ve heard stories from Brad and my in-laws about asparagus hunting in Iowa. Brad’s grandparents live there and have been known to pull their car over at the sight of the green asparagus stalks reaching upwards from the depths of a ditch. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to partake in this activity but I love hearing about it. What is more wonderful than the idea of foraging for food because you found it growing where it naturally wants to be at the proper time of year without having traveled hundreds of miles to be wrapped in two thick rubber bands and placed in the produce department in a grocery store chain.
Spring seems to have finally settled in for most of us, making this the perfect time to enjoy asparagus. There are so many wonderful asparagus recipes out there right now, so I wanted to bring something different to the table. This beautiful Japanese method of preparing asparagus results in a bright, flavorful dish that is as wonderful to eat as it is to look at. The bright green becomes more vibrant with the black specks of sesame seeds that coat each spear.
I love this recipe because of the flavor and appearance but also because it gives me an excuse to break out my suribachi. A suribachi is a Japanese mortar and pestle that has an unglazed, textured surface. Using a wooden pestle, the sesame seeds in this case are rubbed against the grooves in the bowl until they look like black sand. Then, mirin and soy sauce are added making the mixture look a lot like wet potting soil. Riley loves soil. Therefore, he was very interested in “helping” me get the black sesame mixture out of my suribachi using the bamboo brush.
This is a very easy way to prepare asparagus and works perfectly as a side dish to salmon and rice, or even topped with a fried egg. If you don't have any asparagus on hand, you could also prepare green beans using this method. Just as beautiful and tasty!
Asparagus + Black Sesame
Recipe adapted from Elizabeth Andoh's Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen
*Don't worry if you don't have a suribachi. You can use a food processor or spice grinder to grind the sesame seeds, then just transfer them to a small bowl and stir in the liquid ingredients.
- 1 bunch of asparagus (thinner is better, but you can use whatever is available)
- 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons mirin
- 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While the water heats up, break the woody ends off of your asparagus by holding onto each end and bending it until it naturally breaks. The bottom portion is the woody stuff that you don't want to use. Next, cut the asparagus into 1 1/2 inch pieces on an angle. Put the asparagus tips in a separate pile. When your water is boiling, add the asparagus except for the tips. After one minute, add the tips and continue cooking for another minute.
Drain the asparagus and transfer to a bowl to cool to room temperature.
While the asparagus cools, toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium high heat. Once you start to smell the nutty scent of the seeds, remove them from the heat and transfer them to a suribachi. Grind the seeds until some are still intact and others are completely ground. Add the mirin and soy sauce and continue to grind until the mixture resembles wet soil. If needed, add a touch of water.
Scrape the black sesame mixture into the bowl with the asparagus and toss gently to coat. Mount the asparagus on small plates and serve room temperature or cold.