Celebrate asparagus season with my two favorite salads featuring fresh from the farmer's market asparagus! First up, mixed greens topped with roasted asparagus, prosciutto and goat cheese. Next, a tapas inspired salad with grilled asparagus and chickpeas in a smoky paprika dressing with oil-packed tuna.
With every type of fruit and vegetable available year-round, it's easy to forget produce is seasonal. Just a few generations ago, summer meant corn and tomatoes, winter was for hearty root vegetables, and asparagus was gobbled up every spring. But now we can get these seasonal fruits and veg whenever we like. They may not taste very good, but hey, the option is there.
In a way, it's kinda nice we have so many options. It allows us to expand our tastebuds and enjoy foods that may not grow in our region. But mostly, it's not so awesome for the environment.
Even though eating 100% seasonally isn't reasonable (err, unless you live on a farm), there's a lot of good reasons to eat more seasonal produce.
It's better for the environment.
Have you ever been to the grocery store in the dead of winter and wondered where all the bright and colorful produce is coming from? A good guess would be 1,500 miles, since that's the average distance produce travels from harvest to your local grocery store. The concept of food miles is becoming more well known since the fuel used to transport our food is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Even if you are purchasing a conventionally grown fruit or vegetable, it is more likely to be local, or at least from the same hemisphere, if it's in season.
Because seasonal produce spends less time traveling and in storage, it contains more nutrients. Some studies indicate in season produce has three times more nutrients than out of season produce. Vitamin A, C, thiamine, and folate are especially sensitive to nutrient loss. People often purchase organic fruits and vegetables, assuming a higher nutrient content, but actually seasonality affects nutrient content more than farming method.
Economics wasn't my strongest subject, but I do remember the concept of supply and demand. Produce is much less expensive when it is plentiful in season. Tomatoes sell for $2-4 a pound in the winter, but in the summer, I'm able to buy a big basket of organic tomatoes for only $3. I just bought one pepper on sale for $2. In season, I can get four for the same amount at the farmer's market.
If you've ever bitten into a perfect looking strawberry in the middle of February, only to find it tastes like nothing, then you know what I'm talking about. I thought all tomatoes were mealy and bland until I tasted an heirloom summer tomato. As a fruit or vegetables loses nutrients over time, it also loses flavor compounds.
Here's two of my favorite salad recipes to celebrate asparagus season!
Tapas Salad with Grilled Asparagus and Tuna
You can usually find piquillo peppers at the olive bar at your grocery store. Adapted from Cooking Light
- 1 bunch asparagus, woody ends snapped off
- 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
- 2 piquillo peppers or 1 roasted red pepper, chopped
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil or organic canola oil mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 8 cups lightly packed arugula
- 1 7-ounce jar oil packed tunal, drained and flaked
- 4 slices bread
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat grill to high heat. Toss asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill asparagus for 3-5 minutes, turning halfway, until lightly charred. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly. Chop into 2 inch pieces.
- Combine asparagus, shallots, peppers, chickpeas and garlic in a large bowl. Whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar and paprika in a small bowl. Toss bean-aspragus mixture with dressing.
- Arrange 2 cups of arugula on a plate. Top with 1/4 of the bean mixture and 1/4 of the tuna.
- Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of cheese over each slice of bread. Place on a baking sheet and broil for 2 minutes until toasted. Serve with salad.
Roasted Asparagus and Goat Cheese Salad
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoons honey
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 bag mixed greens
- 8 slices prosciutto
- 4 ounces goat cheese
- Bring vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan on medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until the vinegar is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in honey. Mix in 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the asparagus with 2 teaspoons oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a baking sheet. Roast for about 15 minutes until tender and lightly browned.
- Arrange mixed greens on four plates. Top each with prosciutto, slice of goat cheese and a quarter of the roasted asparagus. Drizzle with balsamic glaze.