Teaching myself to cook, one recipe at a time.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Manna Asparagus & Rice

I never realized before I took my current job how difficult getting enough food for the family can be when you struggle with mental illness and are unable to hold a job. Luckily, there are many resources out there for low-income families. The resource I use most often is called Manna, a reference to a story in the Bible. It provides families with pantry items and canned goods, as well as some fresh produce and pastries, once every 30 days. From what I understand, it’s all donated, and an astounding number of volunteers help out. There are a lot of really good people out there.

I go to Manna frequently, probably about once a week, in order to pick up food for my income-eligible clients. Sometimes, the Manna nutrition expert is there demonstrating how to make a simple dish from the items in today’s box. In the fall, she was making things like pumpkin pancakes, whereas now, springtime, she uses a lot more fresh produce.

Last week I helped myself to a sample of the dish that she had prepared to use rice, chickpeas, and asparagus. It was so delicious that I took a copy of the recipe. It had a dumb name, though, so I changed it. We’ll get to that.


The secret to this recipe, the one that rescues it from blandness, is the honey mustard dressing, which you make first.

Start with some lemon juice.


Add extra virgin olive oil.


Next, a plop of Dijon mustard to give it some tang,


and some honey to give it sweetness.


It said “1 clove garlic, grated (optional).” I interpreted this to mean garlic powder (especially since I don’t have whole cloves) and definitely didn’t omit that. Never omit garlic.


And a healthy amount of salt and pepper, as well.


Whisked together, this is what it looked like. The recipe could probably do with store-bought honey-mustard, but this one seems as good as any. I might redo that dressing for salad at some point, now that I think about it.


And now, for the substance of the dish. I spread out some almond slices to be toasted in my toaster oven.


That was easy.


One of the main ingredients, and one that makes this dish so healthy, is the asparagus. It’s easy to get this time of year and is just so wonderful. It’s very versatile, but I only know a few ways to make it, so I’m happy to learn new ways.


Here it is, cut into 1-inch pieces (more or less).


And one onion, chopped. I had intended to only use part of the onion, but once I started, I thought, “What the hell.” It’s a sweet onion and I remembered the onions in that sample being a welcome addition.


Now for the actual cooking part. Drain a can of chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), and then dump them in a pan with a few tablespoons of oil. The recipe said to use vegetable oil, but I stuck with olive oil. Yummier and fancier.


Sprinkle them with a healthy dose of salt, then stir them around on medium-high heat for a few minutes while they hiss and pop.


Once the chickpeas have a bit of color, add garlic and onion. The recipe said to let them cook for “a minute,” but I let them go for a few minutes. They didn’t need to be overly soft, but they certainly shouldn’t be raw.


Finally, add the asparagus, cover, and let steam. Again, the recipe said “a minute or two,” but I let them go a bit longer because the asparagus still seemed tough after that. I waited until they were bright green and more tender.


Finally, add cooked rice. I would have used brown rice, as the recipe called for, but we happened to have plenty of white rice from ordering Chinese takeout the night before. I also added water, since it seemed to need it.


And add the toasted almonds from earlier. I should have added more. They were wonderful.


Finally, the last step. Add that honey mustard vinaigrette from earlier!


Stir and enjoy.


This dish is very hearty. With the exception of a bit of oil, it’s also very healthy. It has protein and vegetables and the perfect combination of strong flavor and warm, soft texture. Plus, it reheats well. I even had some for breakfast the other day.

My only complaint is that this was originally called “Ten Minute Tasty Asparagus and Brown Rice.” Okay. Ten minutes? I don’t know what planet the author was from. It took me that long to cut up my veggies alone. When you consider that you’d normally have to make rice (brown rice, at that), plus all that stove time, I think you’re looking at a lot more than 10 minutes. Unless, of course, you are a host on the Food Network and everything’s already pre-cut, pre-measured, and half-way prepared when you start.

But maybe that’s what Jenna from Manna had in mind. :-p

I’ll have the recipe in my Tastebook eventually. In the meantime, feel free to email me for it.

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