Asparagus – Cupid’s ‘Spear’ to the heart

By Habeeb Salloum

Almost a universal favourite, asparagus is an extremely delicious and nutritious vegetable, first cultivated in the eastern Mediterranean lands.  The ancient Egyptians considered it a food fit for the gods and after the Greeks introduced this delicacy to the Romans, asparagus became a must on any of their feast tables.  However, after the downfall of the Roman Empire, except in Moorish Spain, it was neglected for hundreds of years until the late medieval ages.

In those bygone puritanical centuries, perhaps its association with aphrodisiac powers had something to do with its disappearance from the daily menu.  Due to asparagus’s blatantly suggestive phallic shape it was considered obscene and a dangerous temptation for innocent women.  In jokes, poetry and anecdotes it was a food synonymous for sexual vigour.

Nevertheless, herbalists, and knowledgeable cooks, never forgot this healthy member of the lily­-of-the-valley family. Its smooth velvety flavour leaves a lasting delicate after-taste.

Whether its folkloric aphrodisiac powers are real or not, one needs to try asparagus on Valentine’s Day.  If it doesn’t set the mood, it will fill the tummy.

Asparagus and Crab Meat Soup  – Mang Tay Nau Cua

Serves 8

2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2-pound fresh or frozen crab meat, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons Nuoc Mam (fish sauce)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
5 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch, diluted in
1/4 cup water
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups chopped fresh asparagus
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

Heat oil in a frying pan. Add green onion and garlic and stir-fry over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add crab meat, 1 tablespoon of the Nuoc Mam, and black pepper, then stir-fry over high heat for 1 minute and set aside.

Place remaining 1 tablespoon of the Nuoc Mam, broth, and sugar in a saucepan, then bring to a boil. Stir in diluted cornstarch. Reduce to medium heat and gently stir until the soup begins to thicken. Stir in the eggs and continue to gently stir for a further 1 minute. Stir in the crab meat mixture and asparagus and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with cilantro and basil just before serving.