I went to an unfamiliar greenmarket today and had the pleasure of meeting a whole new group of farmers. One vendor was not a farmer at all, but a forager. In fact, he has an entire network of foragers throughout Canada who trade products, enabling a far longer season than would otherwise exist (the man still has fiddleheads at his disposal!) While his mileage greatly outnumbered that of the other farmers at market, I felt that his overall carbon footprint was probably comparable. Afterall, he hasn’t cleared any forest to plant his crop, or used petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides, trucked in soil and feed or used mechanized harvesting tools. Considering this, I didn’t mind helping myself to his bounty.
I was immediately intrigued by a match-stick thin vegetable that looked like a bean with tentacles. The vendor informed me that this was called ‘sea asparagus’ and handed over a sample. When I popped it into my mouth, I was immediately taken with its crispiness despite the wilting heat, but was subsequently distracted by a gush of sea water flavor. It was provocative, but overwhelming. How could this ingredient blend in a dish?
The vendor assured me that the asparagus had a milder flavor once it was soaked in cold water (changing baths every 20 mins). I decided to take his word for it and brought some home. I decided on a stir fry with some other wild vegetables I had on hand: oyster mushrooms and water chestnuts. The latter of these is actually a tuber and requires blanching before being added to the dish.
The saltiness of the asparagus mellowed appreciably and the fresh water chestnuts added a slightly sweet, grassy flavor. With earthy mushrooms and caramelized sugar and hoisin sauce, the stir fry was a complex, layered dish. Success!
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tb sesame oil
2 tb water
1/2 lb wild oyster mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 lb sea asparagus, thoroughly washed
8 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and sliced horizontally into medallions
sprinkle of raw sugar
dash of rice wine vinegar
dollop of hoisin sauce (optional)
Chop the ends off of the water chestnuts and peel with a peeler. Slice into thin medallions and then simmer in water for 5 minutes. While they simmer, heat the sesame oil and garlic in a skillet. Add the water to keep the garlic from sticking and burning. Add the drained water chestnuts and sauté for a few minutes before adding the mushrooms and sea asparagus. Sprinkle with sugar and rice wine vinegar. If you care to, add the hoisin sauce. When the sea asparagus is brilliant green, the stir-fry is ready.