Asparagus with Wild Onion and Umami

A new classic for springtime - just the right amount of bright and funky umami goodness.

Asparagus with Wild Onion and Umami

One of my favorite spoils of spring are the wild onions that pop up after rains. We are lucky in the Bay Area because the Allium triquetrum or "three-cornered leek" is the wild onion that abounds and it also happens to be as lovely in flavor as it is in appearance. This wild onion is nicknamed "three-cornered" because of the shape of its stems and has the characteristic allium smell and taste with a delicate sweet note, especially when using its small, white, star-shaped flowers. 

Springtime goods of asparagus and wild onion are amazing with umami flavors such as butter and umeboshi (or miso).

Springtime goods of asparagus and wild onion are amazing with umami flavors such as butter and umeboshi (or miso).

There are many ways to enjoy these "three-cornered leeks", but pairing them with asparagus deliciously highlights the season. In California, not many foods are truly seasonal so when they are I like to indulge. Browning the asparagus and chopped onion stems in butter with umeboshi brings in umami elements then topping with the sweet wild flowers and crunchy bits of sesame really knocks it out of the park. We made umeboshi last year with local wild plums, but store bought umeboshi or even miso can be used as a substitute if you do not have access to umeboshi - either ingredient will contribute the umami flavor that you're looking for. Recipe is adaptable to the amount of asparagus you have preference for strength of flavors. The below recipe will serve 2-4 people (in our house, definitely only 2!)

  • 1 pound of asparagus (about 16 spears), tough fibrous stems removed
  • 7 wild onion, aka three-cornered leek, stalks with flowers (there will be several flowers on each stalk)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 umeboshi, finely chopped, or 1 tablespoon red or brown miso
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  1. For larger asparagus spears: Using a vegetable peeler, peel bottom of spear about 1-inch up from bottom and slice larger asparagus spears in half lengthwise. If you have thin asparagus spears, both of these steps can be skipped. 
  2. Remove wild onion flowers and dice stalks. Set aside.
  3. In a cast iron pan, sauté butter over medium-high heat. Add asparagus, toss to coat, and cook until beginning to soften, about 1 minute. Add umeboshi (or miso in small pieces) and diced wild onion stalks, toss to coat, and cook until asparagus browns, about 3-5 minutes, tossing halfway through. Test an asparagus spear to see if it is flavored to your liking - if not, add more butter/umeboshi or miso/onion.
  4. Remove from heat and top with sesame seeds and wild onion flowers. Serve hot.