Asparagus has been used as a vegetable owing to its distinct flavor, and in medicine due to its diuretic properties.In ancient times, it was also known in Syria and in Spain. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh when in season, and dried the vegetable for use in winter. Roman Epicureans froze its sprouts high in the Alps for the Feast of Epicurus. Emperor Augustus created the “Asparagus Fleet” for hauling the vegetable, and coined the expression “faster than cooking asparagus” for quick action.
Only young asparagus shoots are commonly eaten: once the buds start to open (“ferning out”), the shoots quickly turn woody. Asparagus is low in calories and is very low in sodium.
Asparagus has a short season between late April and June. The shoots are prepared and served in a number of ways around the world, typically as an appetiser or vegetable side dish, often served simply with melted butter or olive oil or coated in Hollandaise sauce. Why not try this delicious nutritional recipe which also includes spinach and lentils for a meat free supper.
This is a simple and nourishing dish, making a veg hero of asparagus, a favourite spring vegetable. The salad is topped with one of our favourite cheeses, feta for a tangy flourish
Asparagus, spinach & lentil salad with hazelnuts & feta cheese
400g salad potatoes
Oil for frying & roasting e.g. light olive
1 tin dark green speckled lentils
200g baby spinach
1 garlic clove
50g toasted hazelnuts
1 tbsp Dijon mustard – add to taste
75g feta cheese
Salt & pepper
1. Preheat oven to 210˚C/Gas Mark 5. Wash and chop the potatoes into half’s or quarter’s, so they’re roughly evenly sized. Transfer to a pan of water. Add a pinch or two of salt. Bring the pan up to the boil. Cook until tender, 12-15 minutes, then drain.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus. Wash then bend them until they snap, discarding the snapped off bases. Toss the asparagus spears in a baking dish in just enough oil to coat, seasoning with salt and pepper.
3. Drain and rinse the tin of lentils in a sieve. Wash, shake dry and chop the parsley leaves. Wash the spinach and juice the lemon.
4. Peel and finely chop or crush 1 garlic clove. Roughly chop the toasted hazelnuts, into half’s or quarter’s, not too small. In a small bowl, mix just 1 teaspoon of the mustard with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to start with.
5. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain and keep them to one side. Put the asparagus in the oven at this point to roast. Depending on the size of the spears, they’ll take from 5-6 minutes for the smaller ones, up to 10-12 minutes for the fatter ones. You want a little bite to them. The best way to test the asparagus is by inserting the sharp point of a knife into one spear. It should just go through without being too mushy and soft. Once done, remove from the oven.
6. Heat the spinach in a large frying pan with just a splash of oil if any (the residual water on the leaves after they’re washed should be enough to help them along). Keep stirring, until the leaves have wilted down.
7. Add the garlic, lentils and potatoes. Heat gently, until the potatoes and lentils have warmed through. Stir in the mustard dressing and the parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding a little more oil, lemon juice or mustard to suit your taste.
8.Serve the potato mixture with the asparagus, hazelnuts, sprinkled with crumbled feta cheese.