Meera Sodha’s vegan recipe for asparagus thoran

With homegrown asparagus now hitting the shops, here’s a novel way to make use of those glorious spears

Never has a comment been so barbed as when a dish is described as a side. As if it’s not good enough by itself that it has to take a back seat to another, more exciting dish. Well, that’s not the case here. Asparagus holds its own in any case, with a cameo appearance in the spring/summer calendar and its delicate crisp, clean flavour, but here, given a classic Keralan treatment of mustard seeds, cashew, coconut and lemon, it becomes something very special indeed. A side in name, but a star on the table.

Asparagus and cashew thoran
Prep 10 min
Cook 20 min
Serves 2 (or 4 as part of a bigger meal)

750g asparagus, woody stalks removed – save them to flavour stock (600g net)
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
10-15 fresh curry leaves
½ tsp cumin seeds, crushed
½ tsp black mustard seeds
1 red onion, peeled and very finely chopped
2cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 green finger chilli, finely chopped (pith and seeds removed, if you prefer less heat)
2 medium ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
20 roasted unsalted cashews
¾ tsp fine sea salt
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
30g (4 tbsp) desiccated coconut

Prep all the ingredients beforehand, because this dish comes together very quickly.

Cut the asparagus into 4cm lengths on the sharpest angle you can. Put the oil in a large frying pan over a high heat and, once it’s hot, add the curry leaves, cumin and mustard seeds. Wait for them to snap, crackle and pop (up to a minute), then add the onion and fry hard for five minutes. Add the ginger and chilli, fry for another three minutes, until the mixture is soft and browning, then add the tomatoes, asparagus, cashews and salt, and stir-fry for four minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and coconut, and take off the heat. Serve with chapati, pickle and yoghurt, or as part of a bigger meal.