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Culinary SOS: Three chefs level up asparagus

Genevieve Ko, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Variety Menu

I have a binder full of clipped Culinary SOS columns. Some have faded, some are spattered with oil, all have my notes in the margins. This column taught me how to cook and gave me a taste of Los Angeles restaurants at home. I hope this revival of it will do the same for you.

We're keeping it the same at its core: Write in and ask us at to get you the Southern California restaurant recipes you want. We'll track them down, adjust them to home kitchens in quantities, ingredients, techniques and tools, and publish the tested recipe along with your request. But we're expanding it too: Call us -- SOS! -- with any cooking help you need. Our answers may be through recipes, tutorials or both.

To start, here's a question from Karen Ng in Brentwood, Calif.: I see all this amazing asparagus at the farmer's market! I usually just roast it with oil, salt and pepper. It's delicious that way, but what else can I do with it?

Here are three different takes from three great chefs. Two are new menu items and one is a longtime family favorite.

Kuniko Yagi of Pikunico in the Row DTLA shares the steamed asparagus dish her mom made in Japan each spring. Ponzu-soaked grated daikon radish tops the asparagus as a condiment, as does a flurry of togarashi spice and chopped nori.

Keith Corbin of Alta Adams remembers, "Daniel (Patterson) and I first made this asparagus and green garlic dish together when I was staging at the Coi kitchen prior to the opening of Alta Adams." While the sum of all the parts is spectacular, the chilled asparagus is also wonderful with only the green garlic mayonnaise or the vinaigrette.

Jason Mattick, chef de cuisine of Broken Spanish, gives us asparagus tostadas with a sauce that mashes up chermoula and salsa verde.


15 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon organic tamari or soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon fresh tangerine (or orange) juice

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons mirin

1 bunch (about 1 pound) asparagus

1 piece (5 inches) daikon radish (about 10 ounces), peeled

Togarashi and chopped roasted seasoned nori, to garnish

1. Prepare a steamer.

2. Make the ponzu by mixing the tamari, vinegar, tangerine juice, lemon juice and mirin in a small bowl.

3. Trim the bottom 3 inches off the asparagus. Place in the steamer, cover, and steam, turning occasionally to ensure even cooking, until bright green and just tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate.

4. Meanwhile, grate the radish on the small holes of a grater or against a ginger grater into a fine-mesh sieve. Squeeze the radish with your hands to remove all excess liquid. Scatter the daikon over the asparagus, then drizzle the ponzu directly over the daikon.

5. Sprinkle togarashi all over the asparagus and daikon and top with nori. Serve immediately.

Make Ahead: The ponzu can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Note: Adapted from Kuniko Yagi of Pikunico


1 1/2 hours, plus pickling overnight. Serves 4 to 6.

Assemble the tostadas completely or set up a bar for friends and family to put together on their own.

2 bunches (2 pounds) asparagus, trimmed

Extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Charred Tomatillo Chermoula (see recipe below)

Serrano Aioli (see recipe below)

8 tostada shells

2 ounces goat cheese or cotija, crumbled

Hibiscus Pickled Onions (see recipe below)

Fresh herbs, such as cilantro, dill, purslane and borage, to garnish

1. Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high (alternatively, heat a grill pan over medium-high heat). Drizzle the asparagus with just enough olive oil to lightly coat (about 1 tablespoon) and sprinkle with salt. Grill, turning to evenly char, until bright green and almost tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into 1-inch lengths at an angle. Transfer to a bowl with the chermoula and gently fold to evenly coat.

2. Divide the aioli among the tostada shells and spread to the edges. Top with the asparagus and its chermoula, then sprinkle over the crumbled cheese, pickled onion and herbs. Serve immediately.


1 medium tomatillo, husk removed, rinsed

1 garlic clove

1 piece (\-inch) fresh ginger, peeled

1 lime

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and very finely diced

1/2 small bunch cilantro, very finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)

Kosher salt

1. Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high (alternatively, heat a grill pan over medium-high heat). Put the tomatillo on the grill, and cook, turning to evenly char, until blackened with blistered pockets, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let stand until cool enough to handle.

2. Very finely chop the charred tomatillo and transfer to a large bowl. Using a Microplane zester, finely grate the garlic, ginger, and the lime's zest directly on top. Halve the lime and squeeze in the juice, then add the olive oil, cumin, chile and cilantro. Stir to combine and season with salt.

Make Ahead: The chermoula can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.


3/4 cup vegetable oil

2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped

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1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

Kosher salt

1. Combine the oil and chiles in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a liquid measuring cup and discard any solids. You should have two-thirds cup drained oil.

2. Whisk the egg yolk in a small bowl. While whisking, add the serrano oil in a slow, steady stream until the mixture emulsifies. If it breaks, whisk in a teaspoon of warm water. Whisk in the lime juice, then season with salt.

Make Ahead: The aioli can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.


1 medium red onion

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 habanero chile

3 dried hibiscus flowers

1. Halve the onion lengthwise, then cut it crosswise into very thin half-moons. Put the onions in a glass pint jar or nonreactive container.

2. Bring the vinegar and chile to a boil in a small saucepan, then pour over the onions. Add the hibiscus flowers and turn to coat. Seal the jar or cover and refrigerate overnight.

Make Ahead: The onions can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.

Note: Adapted from Ray Garcia and Jason Mattick at Broken Spanish


1 hour. Serves 6 to 8.

Green garlic, the fragrant but mellow stalks that haven't yet matured to full garlic bulbs, bring out the grassy side of asparagus in an easy blender mayonnaise. That creamy base is topped with a light egg salad dressed with a lemony mustard vinaigrette and laced with fat breadcrumbs. Their crunch is a welcome and delicious shock with each bite. For a final fresh touch, save the lemon rinds from squeezing the juice and zest the peel directly over the whole dish.

Kosher salt

2 bunches (2 pounds) asparagus, trimmed

4 large eggs, room temperature

Dijon vinaigrette (see recipe below)

1/4 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs, toasted

2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Green Garlic Mayonnaise (see recipe below)

1. Bring 8 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat and add 2 tablespoons salt. Add the asparagus and cook, turning occasionally, until bright green and just tender, 3 to 6 minutes. Drain and immediately spread on a paper towel-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Refrigerate uncovered until chilled.

2. Meanwhile, put the eggs in a small saucepan and add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and remove from the heat. Let stand for 9 minutes. Drain and run under cold water until cool. Peel the eggs and coarsely chop, then transfer to a bowl with the vinaigrette. Add the bread crumbs and parsley and fold gently until evenly mixed.

3. Pull the paper towels out from under the asparagus and discard. Drizzle the olive oil over the asparagus and sprinkle with salt. Turn the spears with your hands to evenly coat.

4. Spread the mayonnaise all over a serving platter and top with the asparagus, then the egg salad. Serve immediately.


1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 stalk green garlic (1 ounce), trimmed and thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)

Kosher salt

1 large egg

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the green garlic and a large pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until bright green and tender but not brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool.

2. Transfer the cooled green garlic to a blender, along with the egg and lemon juice. Puree until smooth. With the machine running, add the remaining half cup oil in a slow, steady stream until the mixture is thick like mayonnaise. Season with salt.

Make Ahead: The mayonnaise can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.


2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon espelette pepper or hot paprika

Kosher salt

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, pepper and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. While whisking, add the oil in a slow, steady stream and continue whisking until the vinaigrette emulsifies. Season with salt.

Make Ahead: The vinaigrette can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Note: Adapted from Keith Corbin at Alta Adams

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