By Nele Thomsen, Resident Director, AIFS in Berlin
In our quest to highlight the amazing dishes our students enjoy while studying abroad, this time we’re featuring a mainstay of the cuisine of Germany, white asparagus.
Spring and Summer is a popular time for customized faculty led programs in Berlin. Nice weather means outdoor festivals and activities; it’s also the season to enjoy the best of local produce. Once April rolls around, Germans have two obsessions: strawberries and white asparagus, Spargel. Often sold together at little roadside stands they absolutely have to be sourced locally, and every region has their own specific Herkunftsbezeichnung (denomination of origin) they flock to. For Berlin, the nearest area for excellent Spargel is Beelitz.
You might be familiar with green asparagus, which is available in Germany as well, but a lot less common than the white variety. While they are the same plant, white asparagus grows under earth, in a big mound, and without photosynthesis occurring. This is why the stalks remain white. Spargel is sold according to quality, with long, thick stalks often at double or triple the price of Bruchspargel, stalks that broke into smaller pieces. Some might even buy their Spargel already peeled, which is a bit of an extravagance. The stalks don’t like to be stored for long, so it’s best to eat them the day they are bought.
Chefs come up with a huge variety of dishes serving the white gold as the white asparagus is often called. From the simple to the extravagant, and often very pricey. A few classics are cooked asparagus with potatoes, accompanied by melted butter or hollandaise sauce. Often served with either cured ham, pan seared salmon or Schnitzel. It’s also great to serve asparagus once it’s been pan-fried, either with pasta or as a salad. The flavor is quite subtle so it’s a good idea to let the asparagus be the star of the show!
Basic recipe for White Asparagus:
For 1 portion, use around 400g (14 ounces) of asparagus. You will also need sugar, salt, lemon and butter.
1. Wash the stalks and cut off about half an inch off the bottom, feel with your hand if the stalk appears to be woodsy still.
2. Peel the asparagus stalks, starting underneath the top to the bottom.
3. To make an asparagus broth, gather the peelings and the stalks in a small saucepan, fill up with cold water, add a slice of lemon or a dash of lemon juice, a pinch of sugar and a teaspoon of salt, bring to a boil and let this simmer for 15 min. Strain the peelings and bring the broth to the boil again. Taste, and adjust with salt, lemon and sugar, add a chunk of butter. Once the water is boiling add your peeled stalks. The water should just cover the stalks. The trick is to cook it in as little water as possible or steam the veggies.
4. Cook in the broth for about 10-15 min, until a knife can easily slice through the stalks.
5. Remove the stalks from the pot but keep the broth to make creamy asparagus soup! Serve with peeled potatoes, melted butter or hollandaise sauce.
3 egg yolks
Tablespoon of white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice or more
½ cup of butter
1. Melt the butter
2. Make a bain marie. Put a heatproof bowl over a pot filled halfway with water, make sure the bowl sits firmly on the pot and that the water surface does not reach the bowl. Bring the water to a boil and only then place the bowl on it, turn the temperature down so it simmers.
3. Slide the egg yolks into the bowl and beat with a whisk, add the tablespoon of white wine vinegar. 4. Keep whisking, and add the melted butter slowly, making sure to incorporate it all.
5. Salt and pepper and add lemon juice to taste, you might want to add more.
6. Use immediately or store covered in the fridge, you can reheat it slowly over low heat, and use leftovers for eggs benedicts or other dishes.
Mostly in season at the same time, Germans love their strawberries, Erdbeeren and Spargel. This easy salad recipe combines the two and is excellent either with white or green asparagus.
Asparagus Salad with Strawberries
Ingredients for 1 portion:
5 asparagus stems, green or white
5 to 10 strawberries, depending on size
Handful of other vegetables, like salad leaves, cucumber, bell peppers, avocado
Teaspoon of sweet mustard, or use mild mustard and some sugar
Tablespoon of olive oil
Teaspoon of vinegar
Salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste
1. If using white asparagus, peel the whole asparagus, except the head, and cut half an inch off the bottom. For green asparagus, only peel the lower third of the stalks.
2. Prepare other vegetables: wash and cut up the vegetables and strawberries into bite sized chunks.
3. Cut asparagus into chunks, sauté in a moderately hot pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. When they still have some bite, add some lemon juice, roughly a tablespoon.
5. In a separate bowl, mix the olive oil, vinegar, and mustard with some salt and pepper.
6. Combine the vinaigrette with the salad ingredients and serve immediately.
If you want to prepare in advance, add the vinaigrette to the warm asparagus, and chill. Add the strawberries and other veggies just before serving.