Green asparagus from Peru
Asparagus! Isn’t that something we know all about back in the Netherlands? Yexi is pretty surprised at first: why should we travel so far to look at asparagus? Farmer Manuel has to laugh. ‘Look more closely, these asparagus are green. The ones you grow back home are white, right?’ Yes, we have to go all the way to the Peruvian capital city of Lima to see green asparagus instead of the white kind we grow and know.
Here under the Peruvian sun we’re met with one surprise after another. It would be a good question for a quiz show: which country in the world grows the most asparagus? Before Yexi can say ‘The Netherlands’, farmer Manuel has already answered: ‘That’s us!’ The question about where the most delicious asparagus is grown in Peru is a lot easier to answer. They come from here in the Ica Valley, south of Lima. The climate – which has to be a minimum of 10 degrees – makes it possible for this farm to grow asparagus for no fewer than 10 months a year. Since the 30 million Peruvians can’t consume all of this themselves, most of this asparagus is sold abroad. ‘To 60 countries!’ says Manuel proudly. The Netherlands is one of them. ‘Discovered has been getting the most delicious asparagus from here for years’, Yexi proclaims, just as proudly.
‘Growing asparagus requires specialised expertise’, Manuel explains as he walks along the fields where little asparagus tips are just peeping above the soil. ‘The tips you see here will grow into shoots. When they’re 20 to 30 centimetres tall, we’ll start to harvest them.’ Slender hoses are snaking all through the fields. ‘Hey, it looks like the asparagus is on an IV’, Yexi points out. ‘In a way, you’re right’, Manuel agrees. Those hoses are actually a very innovative irrigation method. Professional farmers like Manuel call it drip irrigation. It’s a method that wastes the least amount of water.
After all, it’s all about being professional at this farm. He has been growing ‘our’ green asparagus for more than 20 years now. It’s a vegetable known as a real health booster: plenty of vitamins B6 and C – great nutritional values. ‘But the best thing is their fantastic flavour’, Manuel is quick to add. ‘Just a few minutes’ cooking in water, a dash of good olive oil, and you create a wonderful meal. We stir-fry them too, by the way. Or we add them to soups, salads, risotto or pasta dishes.’
You can learn a lot this way! But Manuel still has one more bit of advice to give us. He works hard to grow the very best quality asparagus. ‘And that’s the reason why it’s equally important to store asparagus in the right conditions at home. Do you know how? Simply stand them up in a bowl of cold water!’ Hey, that’s a new one for us. Back home, we always store them in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp cloth. ‘That’s OK, too’, says Manuel, pretending to be stern. ‘They’ll keep for two or three days that way. But why would you? In my kitchen, they go straight into the pan!’
Causa limeña is a typical Peruvian recipe using cold potatoes. You can prepare it with various fillings, but it’s no surprise that we like to use green asparagus! This recipe is traditionally made with a yellow chilli pepper called Ají Amarillo which is often used in Peruvian cooking, but you could also use other kinds of peppers.