A Plating Palate: Chilled Asparagus & Fresh Herb Soup
This recipe is a great way to showcase beautiful seasonal produce like asparagus, ramps and mint. The bright green color accented with bits of purple (ramp ends and micro amaranth) makes this soup gorgeous as it is delicious. When cooking, one can further manipulate the colors of this produce by adding salt to bring out the chlorophyll in the greens, and an acid to make purples more vibrant.
An easy plating style for a soup like this is to serve it as an amuse bouche in shooter glasses, as a welcome starter to any meal. Despite the number of garnishes, keep a section of the soup’s surface uncovered, lest the garnishes overpower the soup instead of complementing its flavors. When plating, garnish each glass with the same topping before moving on to the next one; this ensures visual consistency. If serving in shooters, make sure the soup is not too thick.
The second style is almost like a deconstructed soup – with the garnishes adorning the soup, but in such an amount that the diner can enjoy them with each bite. This requires bowls with a wide rim. When placing the garnishes, start with the heaviest—the ramps and asparagus tips. Scatter the herbs next, taking care not to cover all the bottom garnishes. The garnishes should all be one unit, with no exposed ‘white space’ in between. Finish with dollops of cashew cream and some drizzled herb oil. Strive to leave around three-quarters of the actual soup unadorned.
This final style may seem like all the garnishes have been randomized, but they are actually placed in strategic groupings. Make sure your soup is slightly thicker here, so that the garnishes float, also taking care not to overfill the bowl; it is important that the eye can pick up each garnish as a distinct component. Start with one component, plating it to completion, before picking up the next; odd numbers make the plate look more natural. Once again, leave the delicate herbs and microgreens for last, draping them as desired.
For garlic confit:
1 head garlic, peeled
½ cup organic sunflower seed oil
For the soup:
1/4 cup sea salt
2 pounds asparagus, ends trimmed (tips reserved for garnishing)
1 large bunch ramps, purple ends reserved
1 large bunch of mint, stemmed (few leaves reserved for garnishing)
1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
4-6 cups cold filtered water
For pickled ramps:
Reserved ramp ends, cut into small rounds
½ cup brown rice vinegar
¼ cup filtered water
Pinch red chili flakes
1 teaspoon maple syrup
½ teaspoon sea salt
For herb oil:
½ cup sunflower oil
Any extra blanched herbs
1 small container micro amaranth
1 small container micro cilantro
Reserved mint sprigs
To make garlic confit:
In a small saucepan, combine garlic and oil. Heat over a gentle flame until garlic is soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Set aside.
To make soup:
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add sea salt. In batches, blanch asparagus, ramps and mint. Plunge vegetables into ice bath to stop the cooking process. Squeeze excess water from herbs, and cut into bite size pieces.
In a high speed blender, blend cashews with ½ cup cold water until a smooth sauce forms; add more water if needed.
Transfer cashew cream into bowl. Rinse out blender.
In the blender, combine garlic in its oil, asparagus, 1 teaspoon salt, half of the blanched herbs, and most of the cashew cream (reserve a small amount for garnishing) with 4 cups water. Puree until smooth; the consistency should be that of heavy cream. Transfer to refrigerator to chill before serving.
To make pickled ramps:
In a small saucepan, combine ramp ends, vinegar, water, red chili flakes, maple syrup and sea salt. Bring to a boil, turn off heat, and steep for 30 minutes, or refrigerated overnight.
To make herb oil:
Blend remaining blanched ramps and mint with oil. Steep for 15 minutes, or overnight in the refrigerator; strain before serving.