For this month's Heart of the Matter, my co-host, Ilva, and I chose to go with the alphabet...and what better letter to begin a series of alphabetical themes than the letter, A? While you won't be seeing a complete series for some time (we want to change the themes up with all the holidays on the way), you'll be seeing different letters appear in the upcoming months.
So many of my favorite foods begin with the letter A: apples, almonds, artichokes, avocado and of course, asparagus. While asparagus is a year-round vegetable here in Hawaii, I know for many of you, it is only a short-lived springtime indulgence. And besides, I wanted to capitalize on some of Hawaii's bounty that maybe isn't so commonly known. For these reasons, I chose one of my new-found favorite vegetables here: sea asparagus. Despite it's name, sea asparagus is not very similar to the asparagus we typically think of. It's more like a seaweed, I guess...or better said, a sea-vegetable. Sort of a cross between a bean sprout and a sea weed...it's a little salty, a little juicy and adds a bit of fresh flavor to anything.
This little sea vegetable grows wild in many places, but in Hawaii, Marine AgriFuture grows sea asparagus hydroponically on Kahuku shrimp farms, harvests it by hand, and sells it at Farmer's Markets and some of the grocery stores on the Island. So, while it's not a food product native to Hawaii (so many of them aren't), it is locally grown. And delicious.
Sea asparagus is very versatile, and good for you. It's full of vitamins A, B12 and B9, as well as folic acid and antioxidants. It's thought to be a good detoxification agent and good for your muscles. And it's a good source of iodine. Since LB and I eat a lot of dark, leafy greens, which also grow very well in Hawaii and are good for you, but tend to interfere with the uptake of the important mineral, iodine, sea asparagus is one way we get our weekly dose of iodine (we use kosher salt for cooking, which does not have iodine added to it the way "table" salt does).
While many people prefer to blanch the sea asparagus for a minute or so before using it, we've found that with the type of dishes we like to make with it, we like to maintain it's salty taste. While it is a bit bitter when eaten raw from the package, when mixed with oils (like the recipe below) it doesn't taste bitter at all. Below is my entry for HotM and a salad that is perfect for a potluck or a light dinner (with some crusty bread or even by itself). It's also easily cut in half. If you want to try it at home and don't have sea asparagus, this is still good with a bunch of regular asparagus - blanched first, cut into smallish pieces, and a little extra soy sauce or shoyu added.
1 package sea asparagus, roughly choppedDressing
1 japanese or english cucumber, diced
1/2 block of extra firm tofu, diced
1 large heirloom tomato, diced
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
2 tbsp. seasoned rice vinegarCombine all the salad ingredients, except for the sesame seeds, in a large bowl. Add the dressing to a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Close the lid and shake. When the dressing is mixed, pour it over the salad ingredients and then mix, gently. Sprinkle the top with sesame seeds and then mix again gently. This is good fresh, or even after marinating over-night. Better still? I use the dressing for all kinds of things - lettuce salads, marinating chicken, just about any kind of anything that I want to add an "Asian" flavor to...try it!
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. honey