Saturday, May 14, 2011

Green spears

I don't have a recollection of ever trying asparagus when I was little. I only remember that I associated them with some foul taste and that I never ever wanted to lay eyes on them. I think I might have even been scared of them.

And then, I grew up.

Growing up means accepting responsibility for your own actions, being able to learn from your mistakes (I'm still trying to master that), having perspective when things don't go your way and having perspective when things do, but for me, growing up meant one more thing. Broadening my eating habits.

I'm not going to bore you with the details of my dietary changes or the “aha” moments that I’ve experienced when I tasted different green stuff that I once vowed not to ever put in my mouth.

What I am going to tell you is that the first time I seriously tried asparagus—and by seriously, I mean actually eating a whole spear and not tossing it after the first reluctant bite—was a moment of glee and surprise. I had no idea those little suckers tasted that good.

Just so that I'm not misunderstood here, I am talking about the green asparagus and not the white. Those chubby white ones don't sit well with me at all.

Rooibos tea leaves

Dressed in a hollandaise sauce or with a simple drizzling of Greek extra virgin olive oil, green asparagus are something out of this world. Paired with oranges and a rooibos tea dressing, they are impressive.

I don't know how many of you have tasted rooibos tea but take it from someone who only drinks tea when they have a serious case of sore throat, it is amazing. It is naturally sweet, with a floral and nutty aroma and a vibrant reddish-brown color.

Originating from South Africa and specifically from the small region of Cederberg where the rooibos plant exclusively grows, rooibos tea, meaning red-bush tea, is considered more of an herbal drink rather than "real" tea. It is regarded as extremely healthy due to its high levels of antioxidants and minerals, its lack of caffeine and tannins, and its suggested abilities, among others, to protect against cancer and to improve the immune system.

The leaves of the rooibos plant take on their distinctively red, almost terracotta color during the oxidation and fermentation processes. Non-oxidized leaves of the same plant yield another type of tea, the green rooibos tea which has a lighter color, a milder herbal flavor and far more antioxidants and nutrients than the regular one.

The dressing for this roasted asparagus salad called for a rooibos syrup scented with cinnamon, orange, lemon and honey (be still my heart) and I don't know how to say this without sounding trite but it is p e r f e c t. Simple as that.

As for the rest of the salad, the green asparagus are roasted in the oven just until they're crisp and tender and the juicy oranges are segmented to reveal their lush flesh. Asian flavors are added to the dressing in the form of rice vinegar and sesame oil that give an exotic punch to the salad whereas the ginger, garlic and olive oil perk up the flavor even more. A final sprinkling of toasted peanuts gives added texture to the dish and once you put the first bite into your mouth, you're in for a heck of a ride.

Roasted Green Asparagus Salad with a Rooibos and Orange Dressing
Adapted from Wining & Dining

I like to peel my asparagus. I'm fussy like that. Plus, S has issues with the texture of unpeeled asparagus. But if you get your hands on some fresh, young asparagus and especially if they're thin, I would suggest not peeling them at all. You just need to snap off the bottom part of each spear.

I used tea bags to make the rooibos tea for the syrup but you can certainly use leaves instead.

By the way, I have to tell you that I discovered an exceptional Greek olive oil here in Holland, "Bio Sitia Organic" from the island of Crete, and I am overjoyed because, unfortunately, it is easier to find Spanish or Italian olive oils here rather than Greek. I hope someone does something about this soon. The market is hungry for Greek products. In Holland, Greek products are either non-existent or extremely pricey, which automatically makes them non competitive. I use only Greek olive oil in my cooking—always have and always will— and there's just nothing else like it out there. Whenever I travel to Greece I have to bring back with me large amounts of the stuff, yet this one I found in a small super market near my apartment is becoming my favorite. It is more of a finishing olive oil rather then the one you'd use to cook with and it has a very deep, rich yet delicate flavor. If you happen to find it where you live, use it. I can't recommend it enough.

Yield: 4 servings


for rooibos tea
3 rooibos tea bags
250 ml boiling water

for rooibos syrup
400 g sugar
250 ml rooibos tea
1 medium-sized lemon, halved
1 medium-sized orange, halved
1 ½ cinnamon stick
170 ml honey (I used orange blossom honey)

for the dressing
50 ml rooibos syrup
80 ml orange juice, freshly squeezed
10 ml rice vinegar
10 ml Asian sesame oil
1 ½ tsp orange zest
1 medium-sized garlic clove, mashed
1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
Black pepper, freshly ground

for the salad
500 g fresh green asparagus, cleaned and trimmed
2 small oranges
10 ml plus 10 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp spring onions (green parts only), thinly sliced
35 g unsalted peanuts, peeled

Special equipment: sieve


Make the rooibos tea
In a small jug, put 3 bags of rooibos tea and add the boiling water. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Make the rooibos syrup
In a medium-sized saucepan add the sugar and rooibos tea. Squeeze the lemon and orange juice into the saucepan and add the halved fruit as well. Add the cinnamon sticks and bring the mixture to the boil over medium heat, stirring continuously until the sugar is dissolved. Lower heat and let simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the honey and bring heat up to high. Stir until the honey is dissolved and bring syrup to the boil. Remove saucepan from the heat and let syrup cool and come to room temperature.
Sieve the syrup over a medium-sized bowl, pressing the fruit halves firmly so that all the syrup comes through. Discard what's left inside the sieve and place syrup in the fridge, uncovered, for about 1 hour, until cold.

Note: you will need 50 ml of the rooibos syrup for the dressing. You can keep the rest in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, and you can use it to dress a fruit salad or drizzle over ice cream.

Clean, peel and trim the asparagus
Rinse asparagus under cold running water.
The end, woody part of the asparagus needs to be snapped off. There are times when that part is clearly visible because its color is yellowish or white instead of green. There will be other times though that it will be green but still woody.
In order to snap off the woody parts of the asparagus, take the end of the asparagus between your thumb and forefinger, holding the top half with your other hand, and bend it until it snaps. It will automatically snap at the part where the woody part ends and the fresh, juicy part starts. In some asparagus this breaking point will be lower and at others it will be further up the tip. Don't worry about that.

It's best if you peel the asparagus with the help of a potato peeler. Peel them along their length, leaving the tips intact.
If the asparagus you're using are very young and tender, you don't need to peel them.

Note: asparagus should be consumed just a few days after you've bought them. Keep them covered in a damp kitchen towel and store them in your fridge's salad crisper for 3-4 days.

Prepare the salad
Once you have cleaned and trimmed the asparagus, place them in a bowl filled with cold water. Make sure they are wholly immersed in the water. Leave them like that for 15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Arrange the asparagus on a rimmed baking tray in a single layer and drizzle them with 10 ml of olive oil. Roll them back and forth until they are covered with a thin layer of olive oil and put the tray on the middle rack of the oven. Roast asparagus for about 10 minutes until tender and crisp, turning them once or twice so that they cook evenly on all sides.
Take tray out of the oven and place asparagus on a dish to cool.

In the meantime, cut the oranges by using a sharp knife. First, cut off the peel, then the white pith all around the fruit, exposing the flesh, and finally, cut free the flesh of the fruit from the membranes that are in between the wedges.

Toast the peanuts in a small frying pan over medium heat, until they take on a light golden-brown color and start releasing their oils. Be careful not to burn them, they catch easily, and shake the pan oftentimes while toasting them. Once ready, coarsely chop half of them and leave the rest whole.

Prepare the dressing
In a medium sized bowl, add all the ingredients for the dressing and whisk well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble the salad
In a large salad plate, arrange the roasted asparagus and orange segments. Garnish with the spring onions and sprinkle the peanuts over the salad. Pour the dressing on top and drizzle with a little (10ml) olive oil. Serve immediately and enjoy.


  1. What a beautiful, unique sauce for these gorgeous spears! Love the combination of flavors.

  2. I can't imagine how this dish tastes like. I know roiboos and orange work, but I can't imagine either with asparagus. Well, we'll have to try... Here in Germany they mainly grow white Spargel, most green ones come from Greece, which is hilarious but a bit of a waste really, considering that for example England produces delicious green asparagus. Could they bring here some seriously good tomatoes from Greece instead?!

  3. Belinda — thanks

    lacaffettierarosa — it's a beautiful combination. Do try it. As for those Greek tomatoes, that would be cool huh?

  4. You always combine ingredients I wouldn't have thought of pairing and make it all look delicious. Thank you for inspiring me.

  5. I agree about the Cretan olive oil! And that green asparagus is by far superior than white.
    Coincidentally, yesterday we had a 'girls' cook-together with prawns, scallops, stir-fried green asparagus (with ginger, orange and cashews) and a delicious salad. It was divine!
    I too drink rooibos tea. Could you also use this syrup to make a lighter kind of baklava? I know it is supposed to be sickly sweet and heavy but it's just too much for me.

  6. Yes, I love rooibos tea, but I never thought of cooking with it! Great find! Glad you've become hooked on the spears!!

  7. Denise — thank you :)

    A Dutch Brit — oh yes! You can definitely use it for a baklava. I was thinking of using my leftover syrup for a baklava. We think alike ;)

    Nicole — I am too, I have been missing out on a good thing.

  8. A salad can be just a salad and then it can be a work of art: yours fall into the second category and I will definitely try your tea syrup and dressing, even with other things besides this beautiful salad.

  9. Both Mark and I love rooibos tea (and love that it was made famous in The Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency series of books as 'red bush tea.) This sounds like an amazing combination of flavors, and we can't wait to try it! Thanks, as ever, Magda! David

  10. Feel like digging into that plate. Look delicious and so yummy!

  11. I love this! There was so much I wouldn't eat as a kid that I now LOVE. This dish looks absolutely amazing :)


  12. What a beautiful presentation! I love the use of the tea ... and oranges and asparagus.

  13. The presentation of this salad is beautiful and the vinaigrette so enticing. What a lovely dish. I will of course have to use local Italian olive oil if I make this, you surely understand. I will however try Greek olive oil if I find it somewhere.

  14. Finally, someone who shares my love of green asparagus. Here it's all white on market stands and I can't get used to it at all. I'm a passionate tea drinker and had already enjoyed many cups of rooibos but I'd never have thought of using it for syrup - brilliant. Such a lovely presentation of an inspiring dish.

  15. this is such a unique combination of flavors, and a beautiful presentation to match!

    i'm also a big fan of asparagus and love anything with citrus. you've made something really beautiful here.

  16. So glad you decided to retry asparagus, because what you have created is so beautiful. I have always liked asparagus, and you did it such justice :D
    *kisses* HH

  17. I like asparagus but always seem to stick with simple roasting or stirfry preparations. What an adventurous flavorful recipe you've made here. Looks and must taste amazing!

  18. This is a great way to prepare asparagus. Love the flavours. Thanks for sharing.

  19. your rooibos dressing is pure inspiration, one of the more creative recipes I've come across in a while. I have all the right ingredients (I like this tea!) in my pantry ---can't wait to try this. Wonderful work, Magda.

  20. Nancy — coming from you it means a lot :)

  21. I used to not like asparagus when I was little too! But then as you said I grew up and now I love the stuff. This looks delicious! :D

  22. I hated alot of veggies growing up, then parenthood came and I began enjoying many new beggies! the dressing is wonderful!


  23. Nice post. I was checking constantly this blog and I'm impressed! Extremely useful info specially the last part :) I care for such info a lot. I was seeking this certain information for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.
    my web page: Formosa tea