This is an interesting time of year for food and wardrobes. Temperatures in Britain are starting to rise and so English men are donning their optimistic shorts and displaying legs which used to be described as “two sticks of celery hanging out of a carrier bag”. Much as we would like to discard coats and woolly jumpers we can’t quite do it yet. The sunniest of days tend to have cool evenings. You can definitely put away the big coats and scarves but the pullovers and light jackets are still in need. Colours may become a little brighter but the layers are still there.
The same is true of food. The arrival of English asparagus, peas and beans is one of the highlights of my year – we can say goodbye to the winter root vegetables and start to lighten things up a bit – it’s a time for fresher, zesty flavours. However, it’s not warm enough to sit outside all the time to eat and local soft fruit and salads still tend to be coming from polytunnels. It’s time to adapt some recipes to give hope for the future while remaining practical.
With this in mind I cooked a Chicago Tribune recipe – Herbed bulgur pilaf with asparagus. It attracted me because I like the idea of a lightly fragrant pilaf compared to a more stodgy rice dish and it seemed like a nice way to use the asparagus I’d bought. It also has some interesting ingredients – lemon and orange zest and juice and orzo – something I haven’t used before. I decided to then cook some steak and use thin slices as the focus of the dish.
It starts with green onions and garlic gently frying in oil. I substituted spring onions for green onions (not knowing what green onions were and assuming spring onions would be called scallions in an American recipe. I then added the orzo after ten minutes and just gave it a brisk fry. Finally the bulgur wheat went in and then I then added some vegetable stock – measuring carefully quantities. The objective here is to absorb in the all the liquid without sticking to the pan, without overworking the mixture and cooking the bulgur and orzo. I added a little more boiling water to make sure it didn’t stick. After ten minutes it’s off the heat and I added the lemon and orange zest, seasoning and some thyme – I realised I didn’t have any rosemary too late but I really love thyme anyway. I then just let it stand for a further ten minutes.
Meantime I started on the steak and the asparagus. I bought a lovely thick cut sirloin steak weighing use over 400g and around 2 inches thick. I seasoned it and rendered the fat before cooking for 3 minutes each side and then putting it in a warm oven (160 degrees) for a further ten minutes and then some resting time. I fried off the asparagus pieces in a pan for seven minutes – cutting off the woody bottoms and the thicker stalks. About halfway through I added the orange and lemon juice and a little seasoning. The last piece of action is to bring it all together by stirring in the asparagus mix into the pilaf and slice the steak. I sprinkled a few crushed peanuts over the top to add a little crunch.
The dish was absolutely delicious. The steam was beautifully tender and cooked rare just as I wanted. The pilaf is quite delicate and fragrant. This means that you can still appreciate the flavour of the steak. The orzo and bulgur holds together as distinct pieces and so it isn’t as cloying as couscous can be. My only adjustment in future would be the moisture content of the dish. I served it with lots of pilaf and it can be quite dry. I need to either increase the proportion of asparagus in there, lower the pilaf to steak ratio or add some moisture through something like roasted tomatoes.
I do apologise for my presentation but the colour of the steak, the oranges and the asparagus was beautiful and I wanted a sharing bowl. It definitely hit the mark for an early summer family dinner.