Asparagus and Roquette Salad with Homemade Hoisin Vinaigrette
There is nothing quite like the revolving seasonality of fresh produce that I have experienced while living and working in France over the past three years. Sure, you can find staples year-round at the supermarket, but in my opinion, the true integrity and flavour of an ingredient only really shines through when it comes into season naturally.
In Paris, asparagus season has easily become one of my favourites. Nearing the end of February you begin to hear whisperings of its arrival while, gradually, photos of it start to take over social media. Chefs race to get it on the menu, initial harvests selling for upwards of €30 per kilo. Lucky for us, the price inevitably goes down as more and more white and green shoots make their debut in the markets. I prefer to eat them lightly blanched so that they retain their bright green colouring and fresh crunchy bite. Here, I mix them with roquette and drown them in a homemade hoisin vinaigrette. A touch of feta and a healthy dose of seeds and nuts for crunch give this dish a slight Mediterranean connection, resulting in a playful umami-driven mix that seems to be coming up a lot in my cooking these days.
Five spice mix, although usually readily available at your local market, is easily made at home, and is worth the effort as it truly makes this vinaigrette sing. Timut pepper, originally from Nepal, has the cold spiciness of a Sichuan peppercorn with an added hint of citrus, like grapefruit. Feel free to substitute the latter if you aren't able to find it. You'll be left with more dressing than you need, but it keeps well and is delicious; I promise you won't be disappointed to have a little leftover.