TSiR 2 – Sweet or Savory – Vanilla Meets Asparagus

14. Mai 2006
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For the second issue of the “The Spice Is Right”-event, titled “Sweet or Savory”, Barbara from Tigers & Strawberries asks us to switch spices.

So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to pick a spice, that is usually used in your native culture (If you are American, you can decide what I mean by your native culture–if you are Italian-American or African-American, then you take the food culture you grew up with) as either a savory or a sweet spice. You explain how it is used in your culture, and then, turn it all around, and use the spice in the opposing fashion.

Since I am challenged by dietary adjustments to my menu options because of allergies, I knew I would have to prepare something not using sugar or grains, which left me with the obvious choice – to find a ‘sweet’ spice and use it in a savory context.

There isn’t much in German cooking which is used for sweet dishes – mainly cinnamon and vanilla, and a blend which is known as gingerbread spice (again, cinnamon). Barbara used cinnamon for her example, so I chose vanilla.

My entry to this event (see recipe below):

Oven-roasted Asparagus with Vanilla Hollandaise


Vanilla nowadays is everywhere – in pudding, sweets, candies, ice cream, cakes, cookies, soft drinks, in infant formula and baby food, in perfume, dish washing solution, body lotion, candles, incense, even in shampoo. We are a vanilla-scented society. And most of it is synthetic vanilla (vanillin) which I detest.

Vanilla in its pure variety is
a genus of about 110 species in the orchid family (Orchidaceae), including the species Vanilla planifolia from which commercial vanilla flavoring is derived. The name came from the Spanish word “vainilla”, diminutive form of “vaina” (meaning “sheath”), which is in turn derived from Latin “vagina”. — wikipedia

To me it is a luxurious spice with a bewitching scent, there is really no substitute at all. So many European desserts are unthinkable without vanilla – creme anglaise, of course vanilla pudding, crema catalana, the famous German Vanillekipferl (a traditional christmas cookie), vnalli waffles, vanilla sauce… all kinds of vanilla custards and ice cream. Beloved comfort foods. And have you ever tried peach jam with vanilla? It is pure heaven.

I just bought 2 oz of vanilla pods which are filling my kitchen with a lovely aroma.

For an exhaustive description of vanilla, see Gernot Katzers spice reference entry on the vanilla ‘bean‘.

What I did:

I made oven-roasted asparagus following this routine from Cooking for Engineers. I have never tried this before – it is actually an incredibly easy, no-fuss way of preparing asparagus, even for a larger crowd. I didn’t use their ‘snap-off-the-ends’ method though, the asparagus was very fresh and I barely cut off the ends.

For the hollandaise you need for 4-6 generous servings

  • 8 oz / 250 g butter
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 fl oz / 60 ml Vin santo, or any other dessert wine
  • 2 fl oz / 60 ml white wine
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • salt
  • cayenne pepper or chile powder

Melt the butter. In a bowl over a hot water bath, beat egg yolks and both wines until foamy. Scrape the vanilla pod and add the seeds (I also added half a scraped pod). slowly stir in butter, season with lime juice, salt and cayenne.

I have tried many variations on hollandaise sauce – with orange juice, with wasabi (quite good), with cilantro and tomato. But this, with the more than subtle vanilla flavoring, was the best I ever had. I will definitely make this again.

Thank you, Barbara, for this great and inspiring challenge.

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2 Responses to TSiR 2 – Sweet or Savory – Vanilla Meets Asparagus

  1. 14. Mai 2006 at 21:59

    Als ich das Foto sah, dachte ich: Spargel mit Vanillesauce ;-) Doch das Rezept liest sich richtig gut! Wirklich mal ‘ne Alternative zur Salzig-buttrigen Hollandaise. Ist Dir gut gelungen!

  2. ejm
    15. Mai 2006 at 15:20

    Asparagus and Hollandaise sauce is one of my favourite combinations. What an interesting idea to add vanilla and wine!

    -Elizabeth

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