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Step into spring with Stir-Fried Asparagus

I'm so ready for spring - not only for its warmer temperatures and longer days, but also for fresh produce that will start appearing in local farmer's markets.  What better harbinger of spring than asparagus?

To help celebrate the arrival of spring, try my quick and easy Stir-Fried Asparagus recipe.

1 pound asparagus
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup canned chicken broth
1 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1. Snap the tough ends from the asparagus. Cut on the diagonal into 1 1/2-inch lengths.
2. Heat oil in a wok or stir-fry pan over high heat until hot.  Add the salt and garlic and stir a few times.  Add asparagus and stir for about a minute. Pour in broth and cook, covered over medium-high for about 2 minutes or until asparagus are tender-crisp.
3. Stir up cornstarch slurry and pour into the pan, stirring until the liquid thickens.  Remove from heat, correct seasoning and serve hot.

In New England, there are a number of asparagus farms, but in Hadley, a town in Western Massachusetts, they pride themselves as "The Asparagus Capital of the World."   Here in Massachusetts we are used to hyperbole.  After all, Bostonians know Boston as "The Hub of the Universe!"

Flavor Tip:  For those who like a little gingery flavor, add in a couple of slices of fresh ginger with the garlic.

Asian Cutting Technique:  Cut the asparagus spears on the diagonal for a more attractive dish:

Text, recipe and photograph copyright 2013 by Helen Chen.  All rights reserved.

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Like so many of us, Helen Chen learned to cook at her mother's side. But few of us had a mother like Joyce Chen. Helen grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her mother prepared the authentic dishes of her native Shanghai and Beijing with the sort of regularity the rest of us came to expect of macaroni and cheese or meatloaf.

"I remember when I was little, watching my mother prepare meals for family and friends. I once wrote a list of my favorite Chinese dishes," Helen recalls, "I came up with 150 recipes. I do not have one or two favorites. All the dishes on the list are traditional and all are ones that I learned from my mother. That is what I love most about Chinese food: its variety. Taste, texture and color all come into play, as does personality and culture. I think this is what cooking is all about."

Soft spoken and intensely intelligent, Helen Chen was born in Shanghai and moved to the U.S. with her family while still a baby. Helen grew up, as she describes it, in a traditional Chinese-American household. "When I was young I wanted to be totally American," she remembers. "It wasn't until I was in high school that I realized how lucky I was to have two cultures."

Today, Helen Chen is a widely acknowledged expert in Chinese cooking. Besides her role as an educator and cookbook author, she also is a corporate spokesperson and business consultant to the house wares industry. In 2007 she created and developed a new line of Asian kitchenware under the brand name Helen’s Asian Kitchen®, expressly for Harold Import Company in New Jersey.

Having been born in China and raised and educated in the United States, Helen brings the best of both worlds to her approach to the art of Chinese cuisine. She understands the needs of the American cook as only a native can, yet she is intimately knowledgeable in the culinary practices and philosophy of China.

In her active role as a teacher and educator, Helen teaches Chinese cuisine at Boston University; and, through the Anderson Foundation’s enrichment program ‘Cooking Up Culture’ she teaches Boston area school children from grades 1-12 about Chinese cuisine and culture. She also teaches Asian cuisine in numerous cooking schools across the country.

Helen has lectured to various professional and culinary organizations such as the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Boston University Seminars in the Arts and Culinary Arts, Oldways Preservations and Exchange Trust, Small Business Development Center, The Culinary Historians of Boston, Women Chefs and Restaurateurs and the Culinary Guild of New England. In addition, she conducts culinary tours of Boston’s Chinatown and is a frequent guest chef at cooking schools around the U.S.

Helen is the author of Helen Chen’s Chinese Home Cooking (Hearst Books, 1994), Peking Cuisine (Orion Books,1997) and Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Chinese Stir-Fries (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). A second book in the Helen’s Asian Kitchen series, Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Asian Noodles is scheduled for publication in January, 2010.