To me, this salad symbolizes spring in abundance! It’s as beautiful as a bouquet of flowers and its colourful vibrancy is like good mood on a plate – and who doesn’t want to eat oneself happy?
Obviously I could not let the asparagus season pass without posting at least one white asparagus recipe. The slight bitterness of the asparagus becomes beautifully married with the strawberries’ sweetness by the salty, yet mild goat’s cheese and the lemony flavour of the za’taar. It clearly is a celebration of spring, but besides the seasonal products, I also drew on another inspirational source. A couple of years ago I took part in a cooking class called “Persepolis 2.0 – Persian Veggie Delights” in the wonderful deli-cookbook-cooking class shop Goldhan & Sampson in Berlin. A visit there surely is a delight for every foodie. I guess, if pressed, I’d choose the Middle Eastern cuisine as my favourite – freshly roasted cumin and tons of parsley – how could you possibly resist? But besides jeweled rice I knew next to nothing about the specialities of the Persian cuisine. By the end of the evening I was in love with dried limes and verjus and I really can’t think of any other cuisine using that many herbs… This is what it looked like:
The idea of the za’atar goat’s cheese ‘gnocchi’ really is the result of a cross-over of Persian and the European cuisine. I am calling them ‘gnocchi’, but they have nothing but their shape in common with the Italian potato and semolina gnocchi. In German we’d call them ‘nocken’ or ‘nockerl’. They can be made from everything: sweet ones with semolina and eaten with plums or savoury made from liver served in broth. In this case they’re cheese ‘nocken’, a little like cream cheese balls.
For the salad:
400g white asparagus
200g green asparagus
100g lamb’s lettuce
1 tbsp pink pepper berries
2-3 tbsp roasted, salted pistachios
1 tsp of lemon thyme leaves
a few basil leaves
1 tsp of coconut oil and a little rice malt syrup or sugar (to add to the asparagus’ cooking water)
For the dressing:
1 tbsp good-quality, fruity olive oil
2 tbsp verjus (Make sure you buy one that is from VERY early harvested grapes otherwise the verjus will contain a lot of sugar. Persian verjus is very sour. Alternatively use lime juice.)
1 tsp elderflower syrup OR rice malt syrup
1/2 tsp sea salt
For the ‘gnocchi’:
150g goat’s curd
70g greek yoghurt, 10% fat (preferably from goat’s or sheep’s milk)
1 tbsp pink pepper berries
3 tbsp sumach
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp lemon thyme leaves
To prepare the ‘gnocchi’, whisk goat’s curd and yoghurt. Pour mixture in a muslin cloth or a fine sieve and strain over a bowl or the sink for at least two hours or overnight. Believe me, this is a really important step for the gnocchi will form much better when strained for longer. You should be left with a thick, doughy mixture.
Trimm off the hard ends of the aspargus. Shave the white one and chop into 4-5 cm pieces. Bring a pot of water with a little added Salt and sugar to the bowl and add the aspargus. Be careful not to overcook it, it should still be a little ‘al dente’. Chop the green asparagus in equally large pieces and sauté in a pan with a little coconut oil. Half the strawberries, arrange with lamb’s lettuce and asparagus and drizzle with the dressing.
Make the za’atar by roasting the besame seeds in a Pan without oil. Mix the with the lemon thyme and sumach and spread on a platte, so that you can roll the ‘gnocchi’ in the mixture. Crush the pink peppercorns and whisk under the goat’s cheese. Form ‘gnocchi’ using two teaspoons and carefully roll them in the za’atar mix until they are completely covered.
Arrange the ‘gnocchi’ on top of the salad and sprinkle with lemon thyme, slightly crushed pink pepper, pistachios and torn basil leaves.