Jul 14, 2018

Fresh Asparagus From Moloka'i, Hawaii

Locally grown asparagus from the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i
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Asparagus grows really well here in Hawaii, especially on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Hawaiian asparagus farmers harvest nearly any time of the year with proper timing and forethought. As a matter of fact, there was a time (between 1937 and 1939) when asparagus was exported from Hawaii to Mainland markets.

A friend and local farmer, Chris Hammond, started a large crop of asparagus here on Moloka'i. A few years later plus a lot of hard work, he is selling his crop at the Moloka'i Saturday Farmers Market. People here have discovered him and his fresh green and purple asparagus. He usually sells out everything in his large cooler within a couple of hours. Naturally I am one of his loyal customers. There is a big difference between store bought and fresh local asparagus.

As a green vegetable, asparagus is actually quite high in protein (3 grams in 1 cup of raw asparagus). It has quite a few vitamins and minerals and is very low in fat. Of course, if you add a lot of high-fat sauces or use butter as a dip, an asparagus side dish may not be a diet dish. But eaten steamed with a little vinegar or lemon juice sprinkled on, it makes a tasty, low-fat, nutritious addition to almost any meal.

Here are a few simple asparagus recipes for you to try:

Phyllo Asparagus Blankets
Simply wrap cooked asparagus in a blanket of phyllo dough and bake. Very tasty, and they make a wonderful presentation.
Sheets of thin Phyllo Dough from Friendly Market
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8 asparagus spears
8 phyllo dough sheets, thawed
   (available at Friendly Market)
1/2 cup butter, melted (or use olive oil)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Special equipment
basting brush
parchment paper
baking sheet

Pre-heat oven to 350˚F. Snap off the tough end of one of the asparagus spears, then cut the rest of the asparagus the same length. Heat a large sauté pan filled with 1/2 inch of water to boiling. Add a generous pinch of salt. Boil for a couple of minutes until the asparagus is almost tender but not cooked all the way. Drain and pat dry. Cool.

Unwrap the phyllo and cut the stack in half if the sheets are big. What you want is for one side of the phyllo sheet to be the same length as the asparagus spears.

Take 1 sheet of phyllo and brush lightly with some melted butter (or olive oil). Sprinkle lightly with grated Parmesan cheese, a tiny bit of salt and freshly ground pepper.

Fold the buttered sheet of phyllo corner to corner in half making a triangle. Place one asparagus spear on the straight edge across from the point. The dough should be the same length as the asparagus. Simply roll the asparagus up towards the point of the phyllo dough. It sort of shows you the distinct layers of the phyllo dough.

Place each piece, seam side down, on a baking sheet. Brush with more melted butter (or olive oil). Repeat until all the asparagus spears are used up. Place the phyllo wrapped asparagus spears on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper, and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. Do check on them, as you don't want to them to burn. Sprinkle with a bit more Parmesan cheese when they come out of the oven.

Makes 2 servings.

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Sesame Asparagus with Bean Thread Noodles
1 pound thin asparagus, trimmed and sliced diagonally into 1 1/2 inch pieces
4 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
a few drops chili oil (to taste)
3 2-ounce packages of bean thread noodles (rice noodles, I use Mum's brand)
3 teaspoon toasted white sesame seeds

In a pot of boiling salted water, blanch (quickly cook) the asparagus until just tender (it should still have a snap), about 90 seconds. Remove asparagus with slotted spoon and quickly plunge them into a large bowl of ice water. Let cool for a few minutes, then drain and transfer onto paper towels to dry. Using the water you used to cook the asparagus, bring back to a boil then add bean thread noodles. Cook for 2 minutes (do not overcook). Drain noodles, then chop into 2" chunks and set aside.

In medium-sized bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sesame oil, lime juice, and chili oil. Add asparagus and gently toss to coat. Divide noodles among 8 small bowls. Place coated asparagus on top of noodles. Pour sauce from asparagus bowl on top of each serving. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 8 appetizer servings.

Salmon with Roasted Asparagus 
and Lemon-Caper Sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon drained capers, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 1/2-pound skinless salmon fillet (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches thick)
1 pound asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk first 6 sauce ingredients in small bowl to blend, set aside.

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Cut three 1/2-inch-deep slits crosswise in top of salmon (as if dividing into 4 equal pieces but do not cut through).

Arrange asparagus in even layer on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and turn to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place salmon atop asparagus; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until salmon is just opaque in center, about 20 minutes.

Transfer asparagus and salmon to platter. Spoon sauce over salmon. Cut into 4 pieces along slits and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Asparagus-Hominy Stew with Chicken
This is a very simple meal made with fresh asparagus, gold hominy, and leftover chicken.

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1 pound fresh asparagus
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon chicken flavored bouillon
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 pieces of pre-cooked leftover chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 15 ounce can Gold Hominy, drained
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Wash asparagus and trim the tough ends. Cut stalks into 1-inch pieces, leaving about 3-inch of the top, set tops aside.

In a wok, add water, soy sauce, bouillon, sesame oil, and garlic. Now add the chicken pieces, and drained gold hominy, Bring to a simmer and then add the cut asparagus stalks. Simmer for about 5 minutes, not covered.

Put the corn starch in a small ramekin with 2 tablespoons of water, stirring to combine. Add this thickening mixture to the sauce in the wok and gently stir to combine.

Now add the tender asparagus tops and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes more. Taste and add salt and pepper to your taste. Serve and garnish the top of each serving with toasted sesame seeds.

Makes 2 large servings.

Note: If you don't have any leftover chicken, then cook some uncooked seasoned chicken in the wok with a little canola oil, then remove bones and cut chicken into bite-sized pieces.

It's important not to overcook the asparagus, nobody likes soggy asparagus. It should be slightly crisp.

To toast the sesame seeds, put them in a dry frypan over medium heat and toast them making sure not to burn them. It only takes a couple of minutes and the seeds have a lot more flavor.  

Jul 10, 2018

Pork Belly Stir-fry

Hawaii loves pork belly, why not... it's bacon, well sort of, bacon is cured with salt and also smoked! Add Chinese wood ear mushrooms, red bell pepper and chow fun rice noodles and you have a beautifully simple Chinese meal that is easy to make.

Wok Fried Pork Belly with Black Mushrooms
Chinese dried wood ear mushrooms
This mushroom has other names
such as tree ear and black fungus.
Usually found the the Asian section
of your grocery store.
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2 seven ounce packages of fresh chow fun noodles (wide rice noodles)
1 pound pork belly, cut into thin 1/8" thick bite-size slices
1 cup dried wood ear mushrooms, soaked in cold water for
    2 hours and chopped roughly
1 large red bell pepper, cut into chunks
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese black bean sauce
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/4 cup water
2 green onions, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces for garnish

Heat slightly salted water in a wok, enough to cover the chow fun noodles. When it comes to a boil, add the noodles and cook 3 or 4 minutes. Drain noodles in a colander in the sink. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of canola oil over the top of the noodles and toss to prevent them from sticking together, set aside.

In the same wok, sear sliced pork belly in a dry wok over medium high heat, about 20 minutes or until golden brown on all sides. You will need to turn the pieces often to keep from burning. 

Drain all but 1 teaspoon of the grease in the wok. Now add the bell pepper and stir-fry for a couple minutes. 

Add the low sodium soy sauce, black bean sauce, garlic and mushrooms. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes to blend all the flavors.

Add 1/4 cup water, cover, and simmer for 5-10 minutes over medium heat. Now add the cooked chow fun noodles. Stir one last time until noodles are hot, then serve garnished with sliced green onions. I like to serve this dish with cold beer and fresh fruit like black seedless grapes for dessert.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: The addition of fresh frozen Edamame (cooked fresh soybeans) adds more vegetables to this dish. Simply bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the beans and boil over high heat for 5 or 6 minutes. Don't cover the pot or the beans will lose their bright green color. When ready, drain beans and serve mixed with the stir-fry.