Paruppu usili (also referred to as usili) is one of the classic poriyals (stir fried vegetables) in Tamil Nadu. This nutritious dish with minimal oil combines steamed dals with beans or banana flower and occasionally capsicum. A few years ago, I tried a paruppu usili with asparagus at Southern Spice - a south Indian fine dining restaurant at Taj Coromandel Chennai - that was not just innovative but combined the goodness and crunch of asparagus with a traditional recipe. This clever interpretation also revealed that asparagus can be used creatively in quintessential south Indian dishes.
Asparagus has been treasured for its medicinal benefits and as an exotic vegetable from the Roman times. There's even an Egyptian frieze that dates back to 3000 BC where Asparagus is pictured as an offering. Asparagus shoots are stir-fried in Chinese restaurants (China is the world's largest producer of Asparagus) across the world and also served as an accompaniment with meat dishes. We've looked at three traditional recipes from Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu that work really well with asparagus.
Asparagus Paruppu Usili
This poriyal makes a perfect accompaniment for rice with more kuzhmabu (gravy similar to the Rajasthani kadhi with tempered curd) or rice with sambar. The crunch of asparagus works really well with the crumbly textures of the steamed dal.
- Tender Asparagus - 1 bunch
- Tur Dal - 1/4 cup
- Channa dal - 1/4 cup
- Red Chillies - 2
- Curry leaves - A few sprigs
- Asafoetida - 1/2 teaspoon
- Mustard seeds - 1/2 teaspoon
- Oil - 2 tablespoons
- Soak dals along with red chillies for 1-2 hours in warm water.
- Strain the water and add salt, asafoetida, and some curry leaves and coarse grind them without water.
- Mix well and steam the dal mix like a dhokla or idli.
- Cool and crumble it like granules and keep it aside.
- Chop asparagus, soak it in water and cook it with a pinch of turmeric and salt for about five minutes. Keep it aside.
- Now, take some oil in a pan and add mustard and curry leaves to it. Add the asparagus and stir fry it for a minute. Add the steamed dal mix to it and stir fry on a low flame for about 3-4 minutes. Add some few fresh curry leaves and serve.
One of Karnataka's most popular salads, asparagus kosambari is also served in Tamil Nadu as a part of banana leaf meals for special occasions like weddings. This fresh and light salad is normally made with cucumber or carrot along with moong dal. We substitute the cucumber with asparagus.
- Moong dal: 1/2 cup
- Tender asparagus: 1 bunch
- Grated coconut: 3 tablespoons
- Chopped coriander leaves: 1/4 cup
- Chopped green chillies: 2 or 3
- Juice of 1/2 or 1 lemon (depending on how tangy you want it)
- Asafoetida: 1/4 teaspoon
- Salt: to taste
For the seasoning:
- Rice bran oil or coconut oil: 1/2 teaspoon
- Mustard seeds: 1/2 teaspoon
- Red chilli: 1
- Soak moong dal for one hour.
- Drain water completely.
- Chop asparagus, soak it in water and cook along with a pinch of turmeric and salt for about five minutes.
- Now, in a bowl, put all ingredients and stir along with required amount of salt and lemon juice.
- Take a pan and heat some oil in it and temper the mustard and red chilli. Now, add it to the bowl and mix well. Your asparagus kosambari is ready to be savoured.
Asparagus And Coconut Stew
Recipe Courtesy - Avartana, ITC Grand Chola, Chennai
This subtle yet flavourful dish is a combination of silky coconut milk that combines with ginger and tomatoes. While this tastes best with idiappam (string hoppers), you can also pair this with appams (hoppers) or steamed rice.
Ingredients for two portions:
- Blanched asparagus: 16 tips
- Ghee: 2 tablespoons
- Turmeric: 1/2 teaspoon
- Pepper corns: 10
- Coconut milk: 1 cup
- Thinly sliced onions: 1 (medium-sized)
- Chopped ginger: 1 teaspoon
- Lemon juice of 1/2 lemon
- Coriander stem: 6 sprigs
- Slit green chili: 1
- Cinnamon: 1 small stick
- Cloves: 1
- Salt: as required
- Quartered tomatoes 1/2 tomato (medium-sized)
- Edible flower for garnish: 2 (optional)
- In a pan, heat ghee and then add cloves, cinnamon and ginger to it.
- Add onions, green chilies and add turmeric powder and saute them.
- Now, add coconut milk, tomatoes, pepper corn and coriander stem.
- Bring to boil, simmer for five minutes and strain. Keep the sauce aside.
- Now, take asparagus and cook it in two teaspoons of the sauce and lemon juice. Serve on top of the idiappam, garnished with edible flower (optional) and pour the remaining hot sauce on top.
Nutritionists and dietitians around the world recommend adding asparagus to our diet not only because it is low in calories but also because it is high in protein and comes packed with multi vitamins like vitamin A, C, E and K. It also consists of micronutrients like iron, zinc and riboflavin in small quantities. You can source asparagus relatively easily from gourmet stores or large online delivery platforms in India. Try and use tender asparagus, and in case you can't find tender asparagus, you can peel the skin.
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About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.