I could talk a little about how springtime means asparagus, but: (1) I think there are probably already a lot of other blog posts and articles about it (such as this one), and (2) I'm not extremely knowledgeable about seasonality. I totally support it (produce in season is cheaper and tastier), but I have to look up what fruits and vegetables are in season when, when I want to know.
So instead, I'm just going to say that I love dried mushrooms/fungus. Especially ones that rehydrate relatively quickly, like the cloud ears I used in this stir-fry, and these sliced, dried shiitakes that I got from Costco recently. The sliced dried shiitakes (a.k.a. black mushrooms) rehydrate much quicker than whole dried shiitakes (which you can get from Asian supermarkets). But then, of course, you can't use them for when you want whole or halved mushrooms.
It's great to be able to have these flavor and umami boosters readily on hand to toss into whatever you're making. I'd been trying out several of America's Test Kitchen's recipes in their The New Best Recipe book for asparagus before moving onto my own recipes. A couple thoughts about my experience with their recipes: (1) they're not great with Asian recipes, but then again, they're trying to adapt things to an American palate and groceries, and (2) I must be more sensitive to sourness than they are, as they always seem to call for more lemon/lime/vinegar than I'd prefer.
In any case, I made my own take on stir-frying asparagus, and after a couple iterations, I remembered my dried cloud ears in the closet and thought, "Why not?" And it's great. Or really, adding any mushroom/fungus into stir-fried vegetables. The big thing that I got out of the America's Test Kitchen notes, though, was to be sure to brown the asparagus. The flavor is excellent.
My recipe is below:
Stir-Fried Asparagus with Cloud Ear
Serves 4 as a side dish
2 lb. asparagus (once snapped, will be less than 2 lb.)
16 dried cloud ears, or other mushroom/fungus
4 TBS water
4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 TBS ginger, minced
4 tsp soy sauce
4 tsp cooking rice wine
1 tsp brown sugar
2 Thai chili peppers, sliced into rounds
2 TBS + 2 tsp peanut or vegetable oil, separate
- Place dried cloud ears in small bowl and add cover with warm water. Set aside about 10 minutes to rehydrate. Once rehydrated, trim hard parts and cut any larger pieces in half to be bite-sized.
- While the cloud ears are soaking, trim the asparagus by gently bending stalks in half until they naturally snap at the right point. For quickness and efficiency’s sake, I take a handful at a time, holding them loosely at the middle with one hand and at the base with the other hand and bend. They all snap at their own trimming points. Slice the asparagus stalks at an angle into roughly 1.5-inch pieces. Rinse and drain in a colander.
- Slice garlic and mince ginger, setting aside in a small bowl.
- Mix soy sauce, rice wine, brown sugar, and chili pepper together in another small bowl and set aside.
- Heat wok or large skillet over high heat until nearly smoking and add oil.
- Add asparagus to wok and brown, stirring occasionally.
- Once browned, push asparagus aside and add 2 tsp oil, garlic and ginger, and stir-fry 30 seconds.
- Add cloud ears and water, stir-fry until dry.
- Add sauce/chili combination, stir-fry until mostly dry. Remove from heat and serve.