Wild fern shoots or pucuk paku that grows along streams, paddy fields and in backyard gardens are popularly used in a variety of salads. The dark green crunchy shoots are usually dipped in sambal to lend it extra flavor. In America, asparagus comes closest to the taste of pucuk paku. I have found that tossing parboiled asparagus while still warm in a citrus dressing with sambal and grated coconut gives this dish a fabulous taste.
I apply the Malaysian method of cooking asparagus by peeling the outer layer and plunging it in a pot of boiling salted water. The rapid cooking maintains the vitamins, retains the color and texture of the asparagus and most importantly allows the tangy citrus dressing to be absorbed at first contact.
Always select firm asparagus regardless of its spears being thick or thin. You would want to peel the outer stems using a potato peeler or paring knife to make the asparagus tender and not waste the thicker lower stalk. Other vegetables such as artichoke hearts or raw endives work equally well with this recipe.
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Juice of 2 limes
1½ tablespoons palm sugar or sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
1 fresh red jalapeno chilies, thinly sliced
500 grams asparagus
½ pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoon grated unsweetened coconut
1 teaspoon sambal belachan or sambal ulek
1. To prepare the dressing, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, salt, onions and chilies in a small bowl. Whisk until the sugar dissolves. Allow the seasoning sauce to sit for 5 minutes in order to infuse the flavors.
2. Meanwhile, peel the outer layer of the asparagus using a potato peeler. Cut the stalks into half then wash under cold running water and set aside.
3. Boil a pot of salted water large enough to hold the asparagus horizontally. Drop the asparagus into the boiling water and cook uncovered for 10 minutes or until the shoots are tender when cut with a knife. Lift the asparagus out of the pot, drain and add to a serving bowl.
4. Add the shrimp to a boiling pot of water and cook for 4 minutes or until the shrimp is pink orange. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the bowl of asparagus.
5. Immediately pour the dressing over the asparagus and shrimp, garnish with cilantro and grated coconut and top it with a dollop of sambal belachan. Serve warm.