Spring’s savoury staples

By Emerson Shams, Nicole Wu,

Asparagus

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Nothing gets me more excited about spring than the prospect of fresh, crisp vegetables like asparagus. While that would not have been my answer 10 years ago – like most kids, I did not appreciate the nuance of flavour that could be extracted from most vegetables. Also, that little side effect of eating asparagus really put me off the vegetable. Don’t let that put you off, though, I promise it’s very exaggerated. Following the tips below, it’ll become your favourite spring vegetable too.

My favourite aspect about asparagus is how versatile the vegetable is. So long as it’s not boiled, there is a plethora of ways to make it the perfect staple for any meal. It can literally be paired with any meal and can be thrown into most cuisines without issue. The easiest method is by far to just roast the vegetable. This combined with some herbs and fats makes a lovely side platter. Alternatively, it’s quick and delicious to sauté the vegetable in some miso butter or to throw it on the grill and get it nice and charred. It’s easy to plate it with some roast lamb chops or enjoy grilled with some prawns or even blend it down into a soup or pasta
sauce. The options are endless.

One option I stumbled upon as a fresher in my student house was to make a roasted oregano crust asparagus. It’s super easy to make and adds a nice crunch to your meal. I recommend serving it with crispy skin salmon and a lemon alfredo pasta. Heat the oven to 190°C. Using very slim asparagus, lay it on a baking paper covered baking tray. It must lay flat. Then coat it heavily with fresher crushed black pepper, lemon juice and zest, oregano, olive oil and 1 teaspoons of salt. Use enough oregano to almost make a crumb coating. Roast it at 190°C for 30-40 minutes, or until it gets nice and crispy. Sprinkle some more lemon juice and enjoy.

Cauliflower

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For a long time and for a lot of people cauliflower had connotations strictly linked to an overly soft, flavourless boiled vegetable accompanying our Sunday roasts or our weekday lunches as a child. For many, it perhaps still serves this role. Yet, as cauliflower comes into season, I think this humble vegetable can become the star of many spring dishes. Lightly spiced and roasted in olive oil before being added to a salad, coated in breadcrumbs and served with hot sauce

as ‘cauliflower wings’, the vegetable has become very trendy in a number of different restaurants. The possibilities for cauliflower are endless: one particular recipe that springs to mind while reminding myself of my love for this versatile vegetable is Anna Jones’ ‘Saag aloo shepherds pie’ (One: Pot, Pan, Planet), which is topped with cauliflower, potato and a mix of spices.

However, if you do want to roast it and add it to salads or as a side, I suggest the following Indian-spiced roasted cauliflower: Mix cumin seeds, coriander seeds, salt, turmeric and a splash of olive oil together in a bowl. Place the whole cauliflower (leaves included, I think they’re delicious!) on a baking tray and using a pastry brush, cover the cauliflower in the spice mix. Roast at 200°C (fan) for 30-40 minutes until the core is soft.

You can even mix up the spices: for a more Italian-inspired dish try mixing parmesan or nutritional yeast with dried oregano and garlic powder. Or, for Mexican roasted cauliflower use cumin and chilli flakes (even better if topped with coriander and lime juice!).

Wild Garlic

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One of my happy places on this earth is a particularly whimsical woodland near where I live: there are footpaths along either side of the brook and the banks are perfect for sitting and dipping your feet in during the summer months. At the turn of spring, these banks are enveloped by wild garlic. Huge blankets of the green leafage and potent fragrance filling every crevice of your nostrils.

Nothing brings me into springtime like going for a walk and seeing the vibrant green leaves with petite white flowers growing out of the muddy ground. My parents will pick the leaves off and eat it there, but I find the flavour too intense when it’s raw. We typically take a bag and some scissors with us on a walk to collect a huge bunch of leaves and flowers, we prepare the wild garlic by chopping finely and combining with egg and a ton of soy sauce, vinegar and spices — we love to use it as filling in dumplings. The filling is also incredible as scrambled eggs on toast if you want something slightly more effort-less.

After the bitter winter months, it’s so refreshing going out into a clean spring day and foraging for your own food. The stuff grows everywhere so you’re bound to find some if you go for a de-stress springtime woodland walk. It’s very easy to distinguish from other plants and of course, the smell is the main giveaway: you wouldn’t be able to avoid the grassy, garlicky smell even if you tried. Feel free to experiment with using it in dishes – I find it works well as a foraged substitute for spring onions and has a similar taste and texture to the dark green shoots at the top of a spring onion.

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