We lived in Germany for a while. During our time there we enjoyed Spargelzeit, literally “asparagus time.” Those in northwestern Europe enjoy white asparagus, which is cultivated by piling earth on top of asparagus plants as they germinate. The cover of earth prevents the asparagus from forming chlorophyll, leaving the stems white. The white asparagus is called Spargel in German, and is considered a spring delicacy. It is often served steamed with melted butter, or in a milk-based soup. The white asparagus is more tender than the green, and it has a delicate flavor.
We have no white asparagus here, but it is spring, and the green stuff is more than adequate. Especially when using thin shoots (pencil stems) on the grill. Here is another winner recipe from Floyd Cardoz in his book, Flavorwalla (page 229). We think the result is a perfect North American answer to Spargelzeit.
2 bunches pencil asparagus (about 2 lb.), washed and dried
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp chile flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Minced zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup minced shallots
2 Tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tsp minced Serrano chiles
Prepare a hot grill. Place a grill basket on the grill to heat.
Trim the asparagus so that the spears are 4 to 6 inches long. Place the asparagus in a bowl.
Heat a small pot over medium heat. Add the canola oil, and when it starts to shimmer, add the mustard seeds. Cook, stirring and shaking the pan, until the mustard seeds pop, 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour the mustard seeds and oil over the asparagus . Add the chile flakes and season with salt and pepper. Pour over 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil and toss until coated well. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1 & 1/2 tablespoons olive oil with the lemon zest and juice, shallots, ginger, and chile. Set aside.
Place the asparagus in the hot grill basket and cook, shaking the basket occasionally, until crisp-tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
Transfer the asparagus to a serving dish. Pour the lemon-olive oil mixture over it and mix well. Serve.
Serves 6 to 8.