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« It’s time for English Peas | Main | Comfort Food for a Rainy Spring Day »

Steamed Asparagus with Miso Dressing

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

I never had fresh asparagus until I moved to the Mainland. Growing up in Hawaii years ago, asparagus only came in cans—and we considered it a treat.

Of course, that’s no longer true today. In fact, in addition to importing fresh asparagus from the Mainland, some of it is grown in the Islands these days.

If we had had fresh asparagus when I was a child, I’m sure mom would have steamed the stalks and served it with sumiso. Sumiso (which translates into vinegar miso) is a classic Japanese sauce that goes well with steamed vegetables, such as green beans, broccoli or cauliflower. You could even serve it with poached prawns or to dress a cucumber salad. Mom used to love that flavor because she was fond of anything tart.

Sumiso is especially delightful on asparagus, as a sweet counterpoint to the earthy green flavors. Aside from the sugar in the ingredients, it’s a fairly healthy sauce, with no oil added.

Sumiso “dressing” is actually redundant, but I think it makes it simpler for anyone who is encountering this recipe for the first time.

Steamed Asparagus with Sumiso Dressing
1 pound asparagus
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 teaspoons sugar

To prepare the asparagus: Snap off the woody bottom part of the asparagus stalks. Use a table knife to pare away the little triangular leaves along each stalk—or not. It’s up to you. Those leaves are perfectly edible.

To cook the asparagus: Steam asparagus in a steamer basket until just tender. Or cook them in an inch or so of boiling water. Skinny stalks will take 1 to 2 minutes; fatter stalks will take longer. Test a stalk by tasting—it is done when crisp-tender and stalks are still a bright green. Watch carefully to avoid overcooking. While the asparagus cook, prepare a bowl of ice water. As soon as the asparagus are done, plunge them in the ice water to cool down quickly. When cool, dry asparagus with paper towels, arrange on a serving dish and refrigerate.

To make the sauce: Heat sesame seeds in a small, heavy skillet on medium heat, stirring constantly, until seeds begin to smell fragrant and are just lightly brown. Remove from heat and cool. When cool, crush the seeds using a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, put the seeds in a small, zip-top plastic bag and roll over them with a rolling pin. In a small bowl, combine miso, vinegar and sugar; stir to make a smooth paste. Add sesame seeds and stir again.

To serve: Spoon miso sauce in a small sauce bowl and serve with the asparagus. Or, drizzle the sauce over the asparagus before serving.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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