I was very excited to see this terrific recipe from Paris-based (and Canadian) professional cook Lina Caschetto in a recent edition of the Globe and Mail. Why? Because in addition to using two of my favourite spring ingredients — asparagus and arugula — it includes recipes for five-spice mix and hoisin sauce instead of relying on store-bought versions that contain additives and preservatives. The recipe makes more than you need for this salad, but you’ll want to use both the spice mix and hoisin again — on salmon or chicken or in a stir-fry. This recipe takes a little time to make but the results are worth it; the sweet and salty vinaigrette over spring asparagus and spicy arugula is divine! You can also blanch the asparagus and make the vinaigrette ahead of time and assemble just before serving.

Avoiding Additives and Preservatives

Make sure the feta, almonds, sesame seeds and dried spices do not contain preservatives or colour. Instead of soy sauce, use tamari, which has alcohol as a preservative instead of sulfites or MSG. I use Marukan rice vinegar. Always use freshly squeezed lemon juice instead of concentrate, which is bitter and contains preservatives.

Toast fennel seeds and peppercorns until fragrant

Add cloves, star anise and cinnamon to the fennel seeds and peppercorns and grind to make five-spice powder

Combine ingredients for hoisin and heat until it thickens

Add hoisin to other vinaigrette ingredients

Asparagus and arugula salad with homemade hoisin vinaigrette


1 bunch green asparagus, medium-sized, trimmed and washed

1 lb (500 g) arugula, washed and spun dry

3 tablespoons (45 ml) feta, crumbled

½ to ¾ cup (125 to 175 ml) shaved almonds, toasted

1/3 cup (75 ml) sesame seeds, toasted

Five-spice Mix

2 tablespoons (30 ml) whole fennel seeds

1 tablespoon (15 ml) Timut or Sichuan peppercorns

2 tablespoons (30 ml) whole cloves

2 tablespoons (30 ml) whole star anise

2 tablespoons (30 ml) cinnamon powder


1 tablespoon (15 ml) tahini

1 teaspoon (5 ml) five-spice mix

2 tablespoons (30 ml) light soy sauce

2 tablespoons (30 ml) rice vinegar

½ cup (125 ml) Korean miso paste

¼ cup (60 ml) water

1/3 cup (75 ml) honey

1 clove garlic, microplaned

Basic vinaigrette

1 shallot, finely diced

1 lemon, juiced and zested

2 tablespoons (30 ml) plus 1 teaspoon (5 ml) rice vinegar

1 tablespoon (15 ml) smooth Dijon mustard

1 lemon, juiced

2 tablespoons (30 ml) honey

½ cup (125 ml) olive oil

1 pinch each fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a medium-sized bowl of ice water and set next to the stove. Blanch the asparagus 2-4 minutes, depending on size and desired degree of doneness.

Strain over the sink and place asparagus immediately into the ice bath to cool completely. This will stop the cooking process and help maintain not only their delightful crunchiness, but also their vivid green colour.

Once cooled, strain well. Cut each spear into three pieces.

Five-spice mix

Toast the fennel seeds and Timut or Sichuan peppercorns together in a frying pan over medium-low heat until fragrant. Remove from heat and mix with cloves and star anise.

Grind the mix into a powder using a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. Stir in the cinnamon.

There will be more mix than needed to make this recipe. Save the extra for later use in an air-tight jar on the spice shelf.


Add all hoisin ingredients to a small pot. Whisk together and heat over medium low, stirring often, until thickened (approximately 5 to 10 minutes). Bubbles will gently start to rise to the surface and the colour of the mixture will start to darken slightly.

Set aside to cool.

Basic vinaigrette

In a medium-sized bowl, combine all the ingredients for the basic vinaigrette and vigorously whisk together.

Add the entirety of the cooled hoisin mixture, whisking to emulsify.

Store in the fridge until serving the salad. It will keep for up to one week.


To assemble, toss the asparagus with the arugula and some of the dressing. You won’t need all of the vinaigrette, so mix and taste as you go.

Divide the salad into four bowls and sprinkle evenly with the feta, followed by the almonds and sesame seeds. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

From Lina Caschetto