We tend to reserve smoky fires for cooking meat or perhaps fish – vegetables don’t get much of a look in. This is a real shame, because there are so many that work beautifully being cooked this way.
Onions, beetroots, leeks and artichokes all respond fantastically to the charring heat of an open fire, but few can match fresh asparagus. Fire is one of the best ways to cook it.
Prep time: 10 minutes, plus overnight straining
Cook time: 10 minutes
Photography: Andrew Montgomery
2 tbsp raw almonds, skin on
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp tamari sauce
pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
1 rosemary sprig
10–12 asparagus spears
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
flatbreads, to serve (optional)
for the yoghurt
500ml (17fl oz) natural yoghurt
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 handful of mint
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
First, make the yoghurt. Place the yoghurt in a bowl, add the salt and stir well. Set a sieve over a bowl and line it with a square of clean muslin or thin cotton cloth. Spoon the salted yoghurt into the centre of the cloth, then gather up the sides. Place in the fridge (still in the sieve and bowl) for 8–12 hours or overnight.
Turn out the thickened yoghurt into a large, clean serving bowl. Pick the smaller mint leaves from the stalks and set aside. Pick the larger leaves, discarding the stalks in the compost, and cut them into thin ribbons. Stir the ribbons through the yoghurt along with the olive oil and some black pepper. Set aside while you prepare the asparagus.
Place the almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and half the cumin seeds in a pan with the tamari, chilli flakes and rosemary and set over a low heat. Cook, stirring regularly, for a few minutes until the nuts and seeds are dry, toasted and fragrant.
If you plan to cook your asparagus over an open fire, make sure the fire is nice and hot before you begin. Snap the woody base from each spear, then place the tender asparagus on a plate. Trickle with the olive oil and season with salt, pepper and the remaining cumin. Cook the asparagus over glowing embers for 2–3 minutes on each side, or as long as it takes to char
the spears nicely. (Alternatively, you can cook the asparagus for a similar amount of time on a hot grill pan.)
Arrange the spears over the yoghurt, scatter over the toasted nuts and seeds and reserved mint leaves. Serve with an extra trickle of olive oil and, if you like, some fresh flatbreads.
Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower is a cookbook about plants it’s about making the most of the land’s bounty in your everyday cooking. It’s based on Gill’s philosophy that small changes to the way we cook and eat can both lessen the impact we have on the environment and dramatically improve our health and wellbeing: good for us and for future generations to come. It’s a beautiful book you’ll want to have on your shelf. Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower by Gill Meller (Quadrille, £27) Photography: Andrew Montgomery.