Nothing says Spring more brightly than fresh asparagus. And giving the vegetable exotic flair, the flavors in this salad add even more vibrancy. The recipe inspiration is all Yotam Ottolenghi, London’s famed chef, who creates amazing vegetarian flavors. My riff on one of his asparagus creations uses black lemon—dried lemons that you whir into a pungent powder—in a phenomenal dressing with cardamom, mint, jalapeno, and tamarind. Black lemon and the other spices are all easily available in the shops along Devon Avenue, often dubbed Chicago’s Little India.
FOR THE DRESSING:
• 1-½ cups fresh mint leaves, divided (You will use 1-¼ cups mint in the dressing and ¼ cup in composed salad)
• 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
• 1 Tbsp honey
• 1 Tbsp tamarind puree
• 1 anchovy fillet
• 1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
• 1 black lemon (Smash dried black lemon with mortar and pestle; transfer to a spice grinder and pulse into a powder)
• 1 large jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, diced to make three Tbsp.
•1 clove fresh garlic
• 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
• 1 tsp. fresh lemon zest (You will use half of the fresh lemon for the salad)
• Pinch of salt
FOR THE ASPARAGUS SALAD:
• 1 large bunch fat asparagus, woody bottom portion of stems discarded
• 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
• Juice from ½ fresh lemon, divided
• 2 tsp diced preserved lemon (optional)
• ¼ cup of the reserved mint leaves, chopped
• ¼ cup pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
• Salt to taste
GATHER INGREDIENTS FOR DRESSING.
Smash the dried black lemon with a mortar and pestle to break it up; transfer to a spice mill and pulse into powder. Place lemon powder along with 1-¼ cups of the mint leaves, vinegar, honey, tamarind puree, anchovy fillet, cardamom, jalapeno, garlic, Dijon and lemon zest into a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Add a bit of salt to taste. Place in a small jar and refrigerate. (Unused dressing will keep for two weeks.)
With a mandolin slicer at thinnest setting and using great caution (they are very sharp!) push a spear of asparagus lengthwise through the slicer, starting at the tip end, to make a long thin strip. Repeat until the entire spear has been sliced into strips. Repeat with all of the asparagus. Using a sharp kitchen scissors, snip strips in half. Add ¼ cup reserved mint leaves. Add diced preserved lemon (if using). Drizzle with one Tbsp. of olive oil and two tsp of lemon juice. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk ¼ cup of the dressing with remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil and remaining juice from the ½ fresh lemon. Arrange the asparagus salad on plates, sprinkle with pistachios and dot with drips of the dressing. Serve immediately.