where spring means white asparagus + battle of the hollandaise sauces

Spring has only arrived in Germany once white asparagus has taken over markets, lunch menus and shopping baskets. Rhubarb and wild garlic are other signs of spring, but no other vegetable is as loved as Spargel. Luckily white asparagus is finally everywhere. I, too, am smitten with this edible ivory and like many Germans I can happily eat it everyday it is in season. The French seem to love it too as when I was in Provence it was the front-row attraction of many market stalls.

Last year I went a nontraditional route by roasting it and serving it with sun-dried tomato pesto. Delicious? Yes. German? No. More often that not Germans boil their white asparagus and then serve it with hollandaise sauce and lots of it. In fact, many Spargel stands at farmers' markets sell packages of hollandaise sauce. As much as I like to match different flavors and think about ingredients beyond tradition, every once and a while it is worth giving into it and who am I to argue with the creamy goodness that is hollandaise? As a breakfast baby, I will always think of it fondly.

For my first white asparagus (actually it was purple) purchase of the year, a few weeks ago, I decided to follow tradition. I'm not really into packaged sauces so I rolled up my sleeves and decided to make hollandaise sauce from scratch. It was my first time. I grabbed my cooking bible, Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, looked up a recipe, unrolled my sleeves and got out my blender. He offers two recipes. The first uses the classic stove-top technique and the second lazier version replaces the hand whisking with a blender. Because hollandaise sauce requires a low heat, I went the blender route. My gas stove just doesn't know low heat. That and I was lazy. And curious. Hollandaise sauce has the reputation of being high maintenance and tricky so I was curious to see if Mark had cracked the code. And being the inspiring (and sometimes lazy) food genius he is, he certainly did.

To give the classic hollandaise sauce made with egg yolks and butter a bit of an identity crisis, I decided to make a vegan version as well. Considering that hollandaise sauce has only four ingredients and two of them are certainly not vegan, I was curious to see what some cashews and turmeric can do. Inspired by vegan sour cream made with cashews, I soaked cashews overnight, blended them in a blender and kept adding things until it was good enough to lick off the spoon and not just taste observantly. 

So here it is Cashew "Hollandaise" versus Mark Bittman's Blender Hollandaise: battle of the sauces. Although they are similar in colour, they tasted differently. But I think this is a good thing. Difference keeps things interesting. The cashew version has more flavour; whereas, the butter and egg version is creamier and richer. And both versions get along famously with white asparagus which when it comes to spring / Spargel season is what matters the most.  

To prepare the white asparagus, bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it generously. Snap off the woody ends of the white asparagus and peel it. Boil the asparagus until tender and then drain. Season with salt and, if you want to take after the Germans, drown it in hollandaise. 

Trick challenge! Can you guess which is which in the photo?  

Cashew "Hollandaise"


1/4 cup cashews, soaked overnight or for at least 4 hours
1/4 tsp turmeric
pinch sea salt
pinch cayenne pepper
2 tbsp + 1 tsp lemon juice
3 tbsp water
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Soak cashews for at least 4 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse and then place the cashews in a blender with the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth. Season to taste. If you desire a thinner sauce, add a bit more water a tsp at a time.

Heat the cashew hollandaise over the stove or in a microwave or oven until warm and serve immediately. Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a few days.  

* * * * *  

Mark Bittman's Blender Hollandaise

from 'How to Cook Everything Vegetarian'


3 egg yolks
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick (85 g) butter
1 tbsp lemon juice

pinch of cayenne pepper, optional 

In a small saucepan melt the butter. Do not allow it to brown. 

In a blender combine the egg yolks and lemon juice. Drizzle in the butter and blend. The butter will both thicken and warm the mixture. Season to taste, adding more salt, cayenne, or lemon juice as desired. Serve immediately. 


Judit + Corina @WineDineDaily  – (April 24, 2013 at 12:37 AM)  

Oh Sasha, what a great post about asparagus. We do miss the beautiful crisp white Greman Spargels here in the US.
Gruss aus Kalifornien

Trisha @ Vignette  – (April 30, 2013 at 5:00 PM)  

I love that you paired the white asparagus with a vegan Hollandaise - will have to try that! I definitely can't tell the difference between the traditional version and the vegan version!

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