Stems and Shoots

Stems and Shoots for the everyday 5 a day

Asparagus is a delectable, luxury vegetable which has been under cultivation since ancient times. It has medicinal value in treating urinary tract disorders and infections. It is a well know diuretic and contains significant amounts of Vitamins A, B2 and C. It is also a great source of Calcium, Potassium and Iron.

Every three years my Grandfather moved his hen house to a new location and allowed the land to go fallow for a season - then he planted Asparagus. His was, no doubt, the best asparagus in all of New England and he always saved the first cuttings for my mother who loved it!

Simple to prepare, snap off the bottom woody end and steam or simmer lightly for one or two minutes in a fry pan or in a special Asparagus kettle which has a wire basket to hold them upright in. If you do not have one handy you can stand the bundled spears upright in a tall kettle propped up with potatoes. Serve with butter and lemon juice, a lemon sauce, or a mock Hollandaise – Nasoya’s Nayonaise with a splash of lemon juice and a sprinkle of Cayenne Pepper. YUM!!! In the Mediterranean it is often drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with Parmesan, Romano or Asiago Cheeses.

The tender, pencil thin, first shoots of the season are called Sprue. They are highly prized for tenderness and flavor.

White Asparagus has been denied the UV of the sun by having the soil packed around its stem.

The Globe Artichoke has been around for centuries and is prized for its heart. A finger food, it is a particularly fun vegetable to eat when served as an appetizer with a dipping sauce. To prepare artichokes snip off the spiky tips of the leaves and twist off the stem or stalk. Simmer for half an hour to forty minutes in acidulated RO water with a cheese cloth bag filled with 1 Tbs. pickling spices (dill seed, bay leaf, clove, coriander and red pepper). The lemon Juice will help prevent discoloration. When eating the vegetable draw the leaf through the teeth to scrape off the flesh form the stem. Be careful of the choke which is spiky and unpleasant. It needs to be removed with a fork but underneath it you will find the heart of the vegetable which is so creamy, tender and delicious it is well worth the effort.

Bamboo Shoots are available fresh in oriental markets. Sliced thinly they can be added to a stir fry or a salad, or spring rolls. They can also be steamed and served as a side dish with an herbed garlic butter or some other sauce.

Bean Sprouts are almost always thought of as an ingredient in a Chinese dish. However, they are also great in salads. Soy Bean Sprouts need to be cooked for two to three minutes. See your-vegetarian-kitchen’s section on sprouting seeds and beans.

Cardoons are a tall plant often reaching up to six feet in height. They taste like a cross between the Globe Artichoke and Celery. Cut the heart and stalks into two inch lengths and poach in acidified water until tender. Serve with Roasted Chestnuts or Walnuts and Butter.

Celery has a crisp stalk with a crunchy texture. It is fibrous and the ‘strings’ will need to be removed by pulling them up from the base. The entire plant is usable, up to and including, the leaves. Use it in soups, stuffing, stir fries and sauces. It can be juiced also. Raw it is great in salads and crudités, or stuffed with cream cheese or any of a variety of nut butters. It can also be served braised as a side vegetable.

Fennel or Finoccio Dulse is closely related to and tastes like the herb of the same name. Fennel has the flavor of Anise. It is delightful when sliced thinly and added to an apple walnut salad dressed with a light vinaigrette or Nayonaise sauce. It is also superb when braised with onion and celery.

Fiddlehead Fern is a rare delicacy and only available for a short time each year. They are wild-crafted tightly furled fronds of fern from the woods. They taste a bit like a cross between okra and asparagus and are chewy. Trim the ends and steam or simmer. Use in salads or appetizers dressed with a vinaigrette or added to an occasional stir fry for interest.

Hearts of Palm are rarely found fresh. When you find them do not hesitate to enjoy them. They are a delicacy and should be blanched before use to remove any bitterness. Braise or sauté them, add a Mock Hollandaise Sauce or slice them into a salad. They have a distinctive flavor and a delightful crisp crunch.

Water Chestnuts like rice are grown under shallow water, in good soil in climates that enjoy high temperatures. The corms are brown and should be peeled. They can be eaten raw or cooked in a light garlic or Hoisin sauce. Their flavor is crisp, nutty and somewhat sweet. You will find them in oriental cooking.

Check back often as we add new recipes for these stems and shoots.

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