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Going full stem



Call it satavar, shatavari, shatamull or shatawari, asparagus is the new vegetarian staple that is being dished out across restaurants and fine-dining establishments. From asparagus pastry, asparagus risotto to asparagus pizza—this vegetable, which was earlier completely unfamiliar to the Indian palate, is here to stay in our menus.

“With new dietary trends and unique distinctive and cultural diversity, asparagus is now used in various Indian cuisines. Places like Ooty, Himachal Pradesh, Northeastern regions are producing local asparagus aiding in its increasing availability. Dishes like Asparagus Poriyal, Chorchori and mix vegetables form a large part of healthy cooking and incorporate the vegetable. The blend of Indian spices garam masala and mustard add to the taste of the dishes and is moreover a substitute to beans in many of the dishes,” says Sanjeev Ranjan, Executive Chef, Kathmandu Marriott Hotel.

Often mistaken as a type of beans, asparagus can be identified as having stout stems with much-branched feathery heads. Interestingly, its Hindi moniker shatavari roughly translates to  “having hundred roots” and in Ayurveda texts it has been used for centuries for balancing pitta and vata. It gives a boost to immune system, elevates energy levels and strength. Regardless of its medicinal value, asparagus is largely considered a western vegetable.

Most popularly, it is served as a side with grilled steak. On how Indian cuisine has adopted the veggie, Shivneet Pohoja, Executive Chef, ITC Grand Bharat, Mumbai, says, “It is a unique ingredient when it comes to Indian cuisine. While it has been in use for centuries in our food for medicinal purposes, asparagus as most of the world knows it today, certainly does not find place in heirloom Indian recipes. This does not mean that new recipes cannot be written.

More farmers are growing asparagus indigenously across certain climatically suitable parts of India. Chefs are more adventurous than before, willing to try non-traditional ingredients in their native cooking styles. All of these factors have made asparagus a global ingredient. The day is not far where it would be as common as the humble bhindi.”

Mostly served as sautéed or lightly fried, asparagus’s bitter and sweet taste has a cooling effect on the digestive system, and its unctuous nature makes it a great support for anyone looking for a nourishing effect to their meal. As a general rule, care must be taken not to cook asparagus over high heat or for too long, says Chef Pohoja. Chef Ranjan agrees: “Asparagus should not be overcooked. It should be fresh and tossed with spices till it remains crisp . Ingredients such as fresh coconut, Indian mustard, ginger garlic, garam masala should be cooked first and then asparagus should be added. Basically, cook the Indian masala first and then simmering or tossing the fresh chopped or cut asparagus into the dish will give a better taste.”

But what are the best ways to make asparagus palatable? Chef Vinod Saini, The Leela Palace, New Delhi, has a few tips. “It can be consumed in the form of puree or paste, as an accompaniment or dip. Crispy asparagus for garnishing adds a pleasing hint of flavour. It can be used as a small salad to present as a side dish. Sautéed asparagus with Indian herbs as a garnish of any light-flavoured dishes are also delectable,” he says.

Despite having a bean-like shape, the fleshiness of asparagus adds to its versatility.  “Asparagus samosa (asparagus instead of green peas), Asparagus pakora (batter fried Indian spiced strips), Asparagus and Barley Shorba (healthy soup), Asparagus and Olive Kulchas with cheese, are some of the best variations of that I have tried with the vegetable. I have also included Asparagus Poriyal in a Lufthansa Airlines first-class menu that I cooked and it had been appreciated by the passengers,” says Chef Saini on how the vegetable can be used as a solid substitute in many dishes.

Chorchori Recipe 
❖ Potatoes (diced):  200gm
❖ Asparagus:  1/2 inch pieces 6-8
❖ Mustard oil: 3 tbsp
❖ Panchphoran: 1 1/2 tsp
❖ Turmeric powder: 1/4 tsp
❖ Green chillies (slit): 3
❖ Sugar: 1/2 tsp
❖ Salt to taste

❖ Heat three tablespoons of mustard oil in a pan till it just reaches smoking point
❖ Add panchphoron and when it starts crackling, add red chili powder, stir briefly and add the prepared vegetables. Stir and add turmeric powder, slit green chilies, sugar and salt to taste.
❖ Reduce heat, cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally or till potato pieces are cooked
❖ Stir-fry and in the end add asparagus. Cook till chorchori is dry.

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