March 25, 2014

Balsamic asparagus, artichoke pasta and new, red sandals — it must be spring

I was in a store where I don't usually shop, looking for grape tomatoes for a recipe I want to re-vamp, when I spied a huge display of beautiful-looking asparagus. Finally — fresh organic asparagus at a reasonable price. They weren't exactly local, but California is a lot closer than it was when we lived in Wisconsin — so almost local.

I still have vivid memories of the first asparagus I ever tasted, even though it was a lifetime ago. I was at my boyfriend's house for dinner, and his mother had cooked a side dish of asparagus to a dull, grey-green color, and, unbeknownst to me, transformed the texture to slime. I'd never had asparagus before — my mother pretty much stuck to salad, and a few frozen things like peas and green beans — so I had no expectations. I put a piece of the slimy spear into my mouth, and had an immediate gag reflex which I did my best to suppress. I didn't know what to do because I didn't want to be rude and throw up, but there was so way I could swallow that disgusting asparagus. I looked at the rest of the spears on my plate with chagrin. I think I eventually cut them up and spread them around, like children do to avoid eating something, and covertly spit the mouthful into my napkin. I never thought I'd eat asparagus again, until years later, a friend cooked some for me, and asparagus was forever transformed in my mind. Now, I love it.

Back in 2007 I printed a recipe for balsamic asparagus, and I've been making the season's first asparagus pretty much the same way ever since. I make mine in a wok, though a large non-stick skillet was recommended in the original recipe.

Balsamic-glazed asparagus (adapted from a recipe in the NY Times, 2003)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), washed and trimmed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced (or 1 teaspoon dried minced garlic)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Add oil to a large a large non-stick skillet (I use a regular wok) and heat.
    When the oil is hot, add the garlic and asparagus, and spread out. 
  2. Toss for a minute then sprinkle on the vinegar.
  3. Reduce heat to medium high and cook, turning the stalks frequently to coat with vinegar, until they are bright green and crisp-tender. 
  4. Grind fresh pepper and salt over the top, to taste.
4 servings — unless you really like asparagus! My husband and I eat them all.

We had our asparagus with another favorite — (gluten-free) pasta with artichokes. I first blogged the recipe in 2009, and it's become one of our go-to pasta dishes. The original recipe called for artichokes marinated in oil, but I like to lighten it a bit and use either frozen artichokes or artichokes packed in water. We also added (re-hydrated and pressed dry) soycurls to ours; adding your favorite plant protein such as soy curls, beyond meat, or even beans, adds to the satisfying nature of the dish, though it's perfectly delicious without. The parsley accidentally didn't get added this time, and it really should have been. You should definitely add the parsley.

Tomatoes and artichoke hearts with pasta (adapted from a recipe by Sheila Lukins)

  • 12-oz. water-packed artichoke hearts
  • 1–2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-cup chopped onions
  • 2-tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1-24-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 2- tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1-teaspoon dried basil
  • 1-teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2-teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2-teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4-cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • juice and zest of one small lemon
  • 1/2-teaspoon sweetener of your choice (just a few drops if using liquid stevia)
  • 1-cup of prepared plant protein (optional)
  • 12 oz. package dried pasta, cooked (linguini or thin spaghetti recommended, gluten-free if required)
  1. Drain the artichokes and cut them in half lengthwise.
  2. Sweat the onions in the oil for 10 minutes. (Cook over low heat in a heavy, covered pot, until translucent) Add the garlic during the last two minutes.
  3. Stir in the crushed plum tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, oregano, rosemary, sweetener and red pepper flakes. (Rub the herbs quickly between you hands to release their oils, before adding)
  4. Simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes.
  5. Add the artichoke hearts and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Stir in the parsley and half the lemon. Taste and add the rest of the lemon if you want more tang. Add salt and pepper if needed. Adjust sweetness, if needed.
What vegetables or fruits (or anything) announces spring for you? Ramps? Strawberries? Sugar snap peas? Or is it sandals?

Is it sandal weather yet? 

Now, about the sandals. First, I want to assure you that I bought the sandals of my own free will — no one sent them to me to review, though I wouldn't have refused if they had offered. I've been wanting vegan red sandals ever since I gave up my wonderful leather ones, and that was a long, long time ago. I love shoes and I love bargains, which is probably why I like the shoe store DSW so much. They have so many choices at good prices, and if you sign up for email notices, they send discount specials to you. My new Tevas are a closeout color, but since, coincidentally, it was exactly the color I wanted, it was a score for me. The original price was $80, but they were on sale for $49. I used an email coupon plus an 'earned points' coupon to bring the price down to $27.95 plus tax, with free shipping. And yes, they're vegan. There's a DSW near me so it's an easy return, but I'm keeping them. My only regret (true of anything ordered online) is the extra packaging it entails, though DSW seems to minimise the packaging compared to some places.

It's not that easy for me to find shoes because in addition to wanting them to be cruelty-free, my feet can be hard to fit. My first criteria for shoes, after vegan-friendly, is comfortable. I like them to look good, but I won't buy a shoe that I can't walk in for miles. (I should say I usually won't. I've been known to break this rule.) I was a little leery about buying Tevas because they've never felt comfortable to me in the past. My new Tevas, though, seem incredibly comfortable — I'm hoping for the best.

Kalso Earth Shoes used to make great-looking and extremely comfortable vegan sandals and shoes, but Earth seems to have moved more into the fashion shoe business, and their vegan collection is limited. I still love my old Earth shoes, but I've been forced to move on. I've had a lot of luck with J-41, the same company that makes Jambu. My J-41 shoes are usually much less expensive than similar shoes, extremely comfortable and ultra long-lasting. J-41 clearly labels their vegan shoes so you know whats what. Do you have a favorite vegan shoe brand?


    1. Cute sandals! We can't wear open toe shoes at work (the only dress code we have) so I haven't worn sandals in years... my favorite vegan shoes are just whatever is cheap and comfortable. I love my Onitsuka Tiger sneakers.
      The artichoke sauce on pasta sounds fantastic. I so rarely make artichokes but they are lovely.
      And luckily I have never had a bad asparagus experience... there is a recipe in a Terry Walters book (I believe) that serves them steamed with a creamy walnut sauce. So delicious.

      1. Cheap and comfortable (and long-lasting) works for me. Most of my shoes are closed, but I love to have my feet aired out in summer. I'll have to branch out with my asparagus recipes — I tend to keep repeating favorites.

    2. Great looking asparagus! Love the simple preparation and the bright color. I'm not much of a sandal wearer, I can never seem to find a comfortable pair for my feet. But those tevas look cute. :-)

      1. Comfort before beauty is pretty much my shoe motto, but a little beauty is nice. The asparagus were so fresh and delicious — I kind of wish I'd bought more. I think if I lived in California, I'd have an asparagus problem. :)

    3. This post makes me want to go out and get some asparagus!

      1. I found them at Fred Meyer, and they were great!

    4. Okay, first off, I love both of those dishes! So yummy and fresh sounding. And shoes, yes. I love shoes, too. I mostly get mine at Payless but have been known to branch out to other stores. Man-made shoes are remarkably easy to find and usually very affordable. So glad you nabbed your pair of coveted red sandals.

      1. I've tried Payless and never could find anything comfortable to my picky feet. (narrow at the ankle and wide across the base of the toes) The last time I looked there, most of the shoes were leather, even though man-made, especially boots, is getting easier to find. I got a pair of non-leather Naturalizer boots this winter that I wore practically every day. DSW has the best selection I've found — especially online. And they have the best sales.

    5. I've been wanting to try that same asparagus for such a time, problem is I can't find a balsamic vinegar somewhere near here in Amsterdam...

    6. Those shoes are so cute! I'm on the hunt for some new spring sandals. I can't keep wearing this one pair of flip flops all spring and summer again. they're going to fall apart!

      1. I'm always a little sad when I realize my old favorites are about to bite the dust.

    7. That asparagus sounds great! It's one of my absolute favorite vegetables. I just bought several bunches on sale and I know what I'll be doing with at least one of them. Affordable asparagus is a rare find in MA for 10-11 months out of the year so its appearance is always a sign of spring for me :)

      1. We went back to get more and we got the last bunch of organic asparagus. I sure hope they get more in because now I want to eat it all the time!

    8. Love both everyone else, I bought two bunches at Smith's, and one is gone already. The next will definitely be prepared your way. My hubby isn't vegan, but he loves the way I prepare my vegetables. Can I get online to DSW by just entering DSW in Google? Thanks for a great and informative website!

      1. Thanks for your comment! I hope you and your hubby like the asparagus recipe. As for DSW, here's a link: If I order something and don't like it, I can return it to a nearby DSW store, which is one of the reasons I like it so much. They do have a lot of choices, and the prices are better than most other places.

    9. I am so, so exited it is finally asparagus season. Unfortunately green asparagus here is almost never local. We import it from Spain. I hope some day the Germans will realise that green asparagus is so much more delicious and versatile than the white version we usually grow. <3

      1. I don't think I've ever had white asparagus, but I always thought they tasted the same. All I ever see in the stores is green. If I ever see white, I'm going to try it.

    10. I am so envious of you having asparagus! We're still waiting over here, sadly - still all aifreighted in from Peru. I love the stuff, so I'm going to have to bookmark this one for when the wait is over!

      1. Like I said, California isn't exactly local. I'm looking forward to REAL local asparagus!

    11. It finally is sandal weather here! At least for a few days. Your asparagus looks great! (With the ppk filter that is funny.)

      1. I got to wear my new sandals once before it got too chilly again. I hope your weather stays warm. I love when my toes can feel the fresh air.

    12. lol at your mushy spears happy your friend rescued you from Asparaphobia! Thanks for the yumful recipes! :)
      I've had good luck with Keen and Merrell shoes, and I usually buy from PlanetShoes, OnlineShoes or Zappos, or directly from the company which is the best way to get new releases before they sell out. Cheers! :)

      1. Keen doesn't fit my feet :( but I love Merrell — especially their hiking boots. I used to buy from Zappos but I sent so many shoes back I started to feel embarrassed. I suppose that's silly, but I get much better deals at DSW, and I can return in person if necessary.


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