Cheers For Asparagus Spears!

Sakda Thaksin, who goes by the name of Pat, is from Udon Thani, Thailand. He is a landscaper and former Buddhist monk whose father was a rice farmer. Machiko Yamaguchi is from Osaka, Japan. Together, they operate Alohalani Farm.

The farm is named after Pat and Machiko’s daughter, Yuki. She passed away five years ago from a genetic disorder called Trisomy 18, also known as Edwards syndrome. Yuki was given the name “Alohalani” by a Hawaiian healer.

“This is Yuki’s spirit in play at Alohalani Farm,” says Yamaguchi. “We grow and take care of our vegetables like our baby. They are the soul of Yuki blossoming into plant forms. Though not certified, we farm organically on about two acres in this Yuki-land.”

What’s growing: Arugula, asparagus, bananas (apple, Thai, Williams), beets, broccoli, cabbage (napa), carrots, chard, cilantro, cucumbers, dragon fruit, eggplant, ginger, kale, lemongrass, lettuce, mango (Thai), mint, papaya (Australian, Thai), salad mix, snow peas, sugar snap peas, sweet potatoes, tomato (cherry), turmeric. Some medicinal plants such as ya pak king (anti-cancer) also are grown.

ASPARAGUS

Formerly of the lily family, asparagus is now in a family of its own, Asparagaceae. The vegetable is a favorite among adults and kids because of its playful shape and sweet, sometimes nutty flavor. Varieties include green, purple and white, which is shaded from the sun inhibiting chlorophyll production.

At the farmers market, you’ll find fat stalks alongside pencil-thin ones. Some will be straight, others may be curvy. Either way, they taste the same. The only difference is in cooking time. It’s a treat to find them on Kaua’i, as I only have seen local asparagus at Alohalani Farm’s market stand.

Season: On the Mainland, it takes three years for asparagus to establish itself. At Alohalani Farm, it took just one year. Pat says asparagus can be grown year-round, and it takes one week from the time they poke through the ground until he can harvest them.

What to look for: Look for crisp stems with tight, dry spears. Those that are smashed or wet will get mushy. Thick rubber bands used to bundle asparagus can damage the tips.

Asparagus must be harvested one by one, and this is one reason for the high price.

Storage: Keep asparagus tips dry. Stand spears upright in a jar of water, or wrap in a towel and store in refrigerator.

Tip: If you become worried about a peculiar smell in your urine after eating asparagus, you shouldn’t. It’s from compounds in the vegetable. Although strange to experience (and not everyone does), it isn’t harmful and will quickly go away.

Preparation: When harvesting, stalks are cut just beneath the earth, leaving a tough bottom end attached. Just bend the asparagus about three inches from the base; it will snap, leaving the woody segment behind. These can be used in a stock to flavor asparagus soup or risotto. Just before using, soak asparagus in cold water for 10 minutes to remove dirt.

You can enjoy very fresh asparagus raw, sliced thinly and dressed with vinaigrette. Asparagus is best blanched, braised, broiled, grilled – or my favorite, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted until caramelized, as in the recipe below.

Health benefits:Asparagus is low in calories and sodium but high in foliate and is a significant source vitamin C, B6, potassium and thiamin. It also is a good source of fiber.

Alohalana Farm’s produce can be found at:

Farmers Markets: Koloa (Mondays at noon), Kukui Grove (Mondays at 3 p.m.), Kapaa (Wednesdays at 3 p.m.), Kilauea (Thursdays at 4:30 p.m.), Kaua’i Community College (Saturdays at 10 a.m.) Distribution: Da Food Chain (an online ordering system that delivers local produce to your door). For more information, email machikoy@gmail.com.

ROASTED ASPARAGUS

This simple, classic preparation is best enjoyed as a side dish. The natural sweetness intensifies in the heat of the oven and little bits of salt add bright, savory notes.

Makes two servings.

* 1 pound asparagus, cleaned, dried and tough ends removed
* olive oil
* sea salt
* freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with a thin stream of olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roll stalks in the oil with your hands until they are thoroughly coated. Bake for 10 minutes, then shake baking sheet to turn asparagus. Bake for another four or five minutes, until spears are lightly blistered and slightly wrinkled. They should be soft and yielding but not shriveled or mushy. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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