Spring Grain Salad with Asparagus & Meyer Lemon

Spring Grain Salad with Asparagus & Meyer Lemon via The Kitchn.

Salads are a wonderful way to utilize the bounty of summer’s fresh veggie crop, and do so in a way that aligns with the preferred preparation and cooking methods of this most active of seasons – keep it light, bright, and simple, and cook it quickly. This summer salad recipe combines wheat – as pearled farro and Israeli couscous – with asparagus, goat cheese, almonds, and Meyer lemon vinaigrette. Let’s take a look at the components of this salad from the perspective of the Chinese traditional healing arts.

The foundation of this salad is wheat. Despite the current backlash against complex carbohydrates, whole grains have been a staple of the human diet for at least 12,000 years. Grains provide numerous nutrients essential for human development, vitality, and disease prevention. When consumed in the context of a full variety of other unrefined, whole foods, all of the nutritional elements necessary for growth and development are made available.

Farro is an ancient, whole-grain wheat, similar in size, taste, and texture to barley. And while it is a whole grain – with all of its nutritious components intact – it’s also a species of wheat, so it does contain gluten. Like barley, farro has a rather chewy texture when cooked. For those unaccustomed to eating cooked whole grains, aside from rice which has a considerably softer texture, the chewiness of whole-grain wheat may seem a bit strange.

Israeli couscous is a type of pasta which is also made from wheat. It’s a combination of wheat flour and semolina flour, combined with water, and manufactured through an extrusion process. Two characteristics distinguish Israeli couscous from traditional couscous: first, it is machine made; and, second, it is toasted rather than being dried, giving it a distinctly nutty flavor.

Wheat has a cooling thermal nature, and sweet and salty flavors. It tonifies the Kidneys and nourishes yin – meaning it generates fluids. It encourages growth and weight gain, especially in children and debilitated people. However it should be eaten judiciously by people who are overweight, or have a “damp” constitution.

Asparagus is considered one of the delicacies of the vegetable world. Actually the young shoot of a cultivated lily plant, they are very labor-intensive to grow. Depending on where they’re grown, they can be either green, white, or purple.

From the perspective of Chinese nutrition, asparagus is considered slightly warm energetically. Its flavors are bitter and mildly spicy/pungent. It enters the Kidney channel, is diuretic, and treats many types of Kidney imbalances. But because of its warm temperature, it should be consumed cautiously if there are any signs of inflammation. Over-consumption can actually irritate the Kidneys. The warming, diuretic action of asparagus moderates the cooling and moistening aspects of the wheat.

As an interesting side note, asparagus root is considered very cold energetically. Used in Chinese herbal medicine to nourish the yin fluids of the Kidneys, and moisten and cool the Lungs, asparagus root is often prescribed to subdue emotional aggressiveness, and facilitate the attributes of receptiveness and compassion.

Native to Iran and surrounding areas, almonds are actually related to peaches. Almonds have a slightly warming energetic temperature, and sweet flavor. They enter the Lung and Large Intestine channels, reinforce Lung function, relieve energetic stagnation and phlegm in the Lungs, and moisten and lubricate the intestines. They are in interesting addition to this recipe, as they can also help counterbalance any excess of moisture generated by either the wheat or cheese.

In general, the consumption of dairy products, including cheese, is cautioned according to the guidelines of Chinese nutrition, particularly by those individuals who have “weak” digestion, are overweight, or who experience any mucous-related issues. That said, individuals who have difficulty getting adequate protein, or who are thin, weak, debilitated, or have a tendency toward dryness, can benefit from the consumption of limited amounts of high-quality dairy products. In general, goat’s milk is considered significantly less “damp” or mucous-producing, and much more nutrient-rich, than commercial cow’s milk.

Meyer lemons, though native to China, are actually a relatively recent hybrid citrus plant. As such I could not find any specific information about its properties according to Chinese dietary therapy. What I’ve decided to include is info about both lemon, and orange/tangerine.

Lemons and oranges share many similar properties. They are both cool energetically. Both are sour, though lemon is very sour, and orange is both mildly sour and sweet. Both strengthen digestion, and resolve excess mucous. Both also help to generate fluids within the body, and to cool and moisten those suffering from the effects of dryness and heat, including the heat of summer. If you don’t have access to Meyer lemon, you can substitute one lemon and one tangerine, or one lemon and one small orange or equivalent.

Get the recipe here.