Sesame Asparagus is a simple way to spruce up steamed asparagus. Adapted from the Light & Easy Cookbook (1990s) it is, true to form, both light and easy. Not quite as light as plain steamed asparagus, I suppose, but still weighing in around 100 calories per serving. The Light & Easy Cookbook is part of the Country Kitchen Collection, a series of self-published cookbooks by the late Jean Childress. Ms. Childress’ series comprises more than 30 cookbooks published in the 1980s and 1990s. Each is a slim, paperbound volume hand-lettered in Ms. Childress’ immaculate calligraphy.
Like most recipes in the Country Kitchen Collection, Sesame Asparagus focuses on fresh ingredients with bright and simple flavors. Despite the name, the sesame flavor plays a secondary role in this dish. The predominant flavors are the lemon, butter, and chives, which bring out the best in the asparagus (and improve the color). The sesame oil adds some background nuttiness and the sesame seeds are just window dressing. And while there’s certainly no prohibition on serving Sesame Asparagus with traditionally Asian food, there’s nothing distinctively “Asian” about the flavor profile overall.
Preparation is straightforward. Asparagus is gently steamed then tossed with the remaining ingredients. A few modifications were necessary to make this palatable. For example, I significantly reduced the recommended cooking time for the asparagus (fifteen minutes!). I realize that older generations grew up with limp and lifeless canned asparagus that smells and tastes like stale urine, but there’s no reason for modern cooks to subject themselves to that. Fresh asparagus is plentiful and often inexpensive in season. I chose instead to steam for about six minutes, a little bit past ‘crisp tender’ but enough that the asparagus stayed bright green. I also chose to substitute the chives for garlic chives, simply because I already had some on hand. In the U.S. you’ll find garlic chives primarily in Asian markets, sold as nira or buchu. I’ve started to see them occasionally at upscale grocers, but not consistently. If you can find them garlic chives will add a little bit of bite to the final dish, but they’re by no means essential.
My family is accustomed to very simple vegetable sides. Most of my meal preparation focus goes into the main dish, nearly all of which are accompanied by a simple starch and raw or plain steamed vegetable. I’ve been known on occasion to roast or grill asparagus but with little more than a dash of salt and tablespoon of olive oil. Sesame Asparagus was, nevertheless, a minor hit. The extra ingredients complement the asparagus without overwhelming them, maintaining the simplicity my family is accustomed to.
I served Sesame Asparagus with leftover white rice and Honey Lime Grilled Chicken Breasts from the same cookbook. The sauce from the Sesame Asparagus gave extra flavor to the rice and extra fat to moisten up the lean chicken breast. The lemon butter also played nicely with the salty-sweet marinade from the chicken. More generally, Sesame Asparagus would pair well with any lean meat and simple starch: a glazed ham and boiled potatoes, or a pork roast with egg noodles. I suspect my family will continue to see plain, steamed asparagus more often than not, but I’ll keep this one in my back pocket for company. Enjoy!
- 1 lb fresh asparagus
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp minced garlic chives (or regular chives)
- Steam asparagus for 4-8 minutes until tender and bright green. Drain water.
- Toss with remaining ingredients and set aside uncovered until ready to serve. Serve warm or at room temperature.