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Kitchen Mailbox Countdown to Dinner Dining
Countdown to Dinner: Oriental flavors embrace asparagus

Thursday, April 20, 2000

Tested by Nancy Anderson

Asparagus -- as lovely as it ever gets -- is abundant in supermarkets right now, as the season for this delectable vegetable moves into full swing.

So, it seems fitting that today's Countdown recipe should be for Sophie's Favorite Asparagus, which gives an Oriental spin to the stalk.

Kathy Engel of Mt. Lebanon sent us the recipe, which is named after her 2-year-old.

"Sophie would eat 10 of them if she could," the full-time mom said. "She loves anything Oriental, maybe because when I was pregnant, I had cravings for Asian food."

The original recipe called for watercress instead of asparagus, but Engel thought the dressing would work just as well on asparagus.

Her daughter liked it better that way (besides, watercress is hard to find), and helps prepare the dish by pouring on the dressing and sprinkling on the sesame seeds.

Asparagus purists might object to the strong flavors, which tend to overwhelm the vegetable. We found it an agreeable change from butter and lemon (but we're not going to make a habit of it).

Kathy's husband, Sean, is co-owner and system administrator of Infobahn International Inc., an Internet service provider based in Pittsburgh.

He and Sophie cook on weekends -- pancakes and hot cereal -- and always clean up their mess.

Kathy acquired a taste for exotic food as an exchange student in Indonesia.

"The food was so different from what my mom cooked," she said. "Later, in graduate school at Pitt [she's a civil and environmental engineer], I hung out with foreign students a lot because of their food." She was hooked.

Sophie's Favorite Asparagus

12 to 15 stalks of asparagus, rinsed, with tough ends removed
1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Kikkoman soy sauce, see note
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons roasted sesame seeds, optional

Cook asparagus in gently boiling water until tender. While asparagus is cooking, mix the remaining ingredients except the sesame seeds in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

When the asparagus is done, drain and put into a shallow bowl filled with ice water for a few minutes. Drain water from the bowl, pat asparagus dry and pour the dressing over, turning to coat. Set aside until the rest of the meal is ready.

Just before serving, turn the asparagus once more and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve with grilled salmon marinated in teriyaki sauce overnight and couscous.

Note: We use Kikkoman soy sauce in our "Japanese" foods; this would probably work just as well with a "Chinese" soy sauce such as La Choy.

Do you have an entree, salad or vegetable side dish recipe (no desserts, please!) that can be made in 30 minutes or less from six ingredients or fewer (not counting water, salt and pepper)? Share it with Countdown to Dinner.

The PG tests all recipes and if we select your recipe for publication, you'll receive a free selection from our cookbook grab bag.

Send your recipe to Countdown to Dinner, Post-Gazette Food, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or fax to 412-263-1313. Please include your name, neighborhood and daytime phone number. Or e-mail to: nanderson@post-gazette.com. Questions? Call 412-263-1760.

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