Inspired by Hsiao-Ching Chou’s beautiful menu for Lunar New Year—which 1) introduced us to extra-long noodles, and 2) made us wish every noodle or spaghetto could be extra long—we asked her to choose a recipe from her cookbook Chinese Soul Food that embodies a different kind of new beginning: spring.
After shifts at our family’s Chinese restaurant back in Columbia, Missouri—and this is all our shifts, as my mother was the chef, and my father, brothers, and I grew up working there—my mother would make this dish for my father because he loved asparagus. He would savor the green succulence and rave in gratitude. My palate was too underdeveloped to appreciate the vegetable and, like many kids who have food phobias, the fear factor was based purely on the fact that the spears looked “strange” and unlike other vegetables.
I didn't understand its allure until I was an adult and had moved to Seattle, where I experienced the springtime frenzy surrounding the local harvest: asparagus paired with salmon, lamb, morels, and so on. I’ll never forget the time I walked with an asparagus farmer through one of his fields in central Washington State as he explained how these spears of “grass” shoot through mounds of soil and transform into the bright-green stalks. He got down on his hands and knees and dug through the earth to reveal an asparagus crown, with its tangle of roots. Who knew there was such complexity in the soil?
The following recipe's quick-cooking technique keeps the asparagus from turning soggy, and the freshness of the asparagus balances the heartiness of the beef and shiitake mushrooms. While I prefer beef in this stir-fry, you could just as easily cook it with chicken, pork, shrimp, or go meatless. Choose asparagus with thin-to-medium stalks; if yours are particularly large, then slice the stalks on the bias into 1/4-inch-thick pieces so that they will cook efficiently.
For the Sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine or dry Marsala wine
- 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
For the Stir-fry
- 1/2 pound flank steak
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- 1/2 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch segments
- 6 to 8 medium-sized dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water to reconstitute, stems removed, caps sliced in half
- 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper powder