Asparagus is one of the most healthful foods on the planet and leads nearly all vegetables in the wide array of nutrients it supplies.

It won’t be long until the first succulent spears of asparagus are cut from the stalk. Asparagus is always a welcome sight in early spring as a first opportunity for a fresh vegetable straight from the garden. It is important to know how to prepare and store fresh asparagus for the best taste and maximum freshness.

Asparagus is low in calories. A one-half cup serving contains only 22 calories. It is a good source of folic acid, vitamin C and B6. Asparagus, in season in April and May, is a fat-free, low-sodium vegetable that provides lots of nutrients and only three calories per spear.

NUTRIENTS IN ASPARAGUS INCLUDE: ­

Folate: reduces risk of heart disease, dementia and neural tube defects ­

Vitamins A and C: reduce risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and protect eye and skin health ­

Vitamin K: essential for bone formation and blood clotting ­

Potassium: maintains healthy blood pressure ­

Rutin: strengthens capillary walls ­

Inulin: a food source for the good bacteria in large intestine.

Asparagus is also known as a natural remedy that can help relieve indigestion and act as a mild laxative and sedative.

Despite all of the benefits, there are a few downsides to eating asparagus. The vegetable is high in purine, which increases the risk of gout and kidney stones, and high in sulfur, which can alter the smell of urine. In addition, inulin, while a good food source for intestinal bacteria, also produces intestinal gas.

If you are purchasing fresh asparagus look for firm, crisp stalks with compact, brightly colored, closed tips. Store asparagus in a dark part of the refrigerator, wrapped in a moist paper towel. You may also cut off 1 inch from the end and place upright in 1 inch of water. Use cut asparagus within two to three days. If the tips become wilted, freshen with a brief soak in ice cold water.

Prepare by cleaning under cool, running water. If the tips have dirt in them, dunk the tips in and out of water, then rinse well. Trim off any tough or white ends.

Most people prefer steaming as the cooking method for asparagus but it can also be boiled or cooked in the microwave. Try to place similar sized stalks together for even cooking. Some people like to wrap a string around the asparagus and tie it in a bundle before cooking to make it easier to remove from the pan. The asparagus is cooked when the stalks are tender but still firm. Avoid overcooking asparagus as that will cause it to lose flavor, color and nutrients.

Steaming and microwaving are better cooking methods than boiling and asparagus can also be stir-fried, roasted, broiled or grilled.

To cook asparagus in the microwave, place it in a microwave safe dish with the tips pointed toward the center. Add ¼ – ½ cup water and cover with a lid or microwave-safe plastic wrap. It takes approximately 5-7 minutes to cook.

Asparagus can be served cold or hot. If you are going to serve it cold, dip it in to cold water to stop the cooking process as soon as the asparagus is tender. People who like asparagus cold often top it with a dressing or mustard sauce.

If you have over-abundance and want to freeze your asparagus, wash the spears and sort them according to size. Trim the stalks. Blanch small spears for two minutes, medium spears for three minutes and large spears for four minutes. Remove from boiling water and dip immediately into ice water for two minutes. Promptly drain, place into containers, seal and freeze. It should be good for up to nine months in the freezer.

There are a few types of asparagus and they’re all a little bit different. White asparagus comes from the same plant as green, but it’s grown out of the sun, so it doesn’t develop chlorophyll, which makes it lower in nutrients. Purple asparagus is sweeter and its color is created by health promoting antioxidant properties.

Asparagus Recipes

ROASTED ASPARAGUS

2 pounds asparagus

¼ cup olive oil

4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Trim asparagus and toss to coat with oil. Place on a baking pan in a single layer and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Roast for 5 to 10 minutes.

CANYON RANCH GUACAMOLE

2 cups (approximately 1 pound) chopped lightly steamed asparagus

2¼ teaspoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons chopped onion

1 large tomato, chopped

3/4 teaspoon salt, optional

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 garlic, pressed or minced Dash hot sauce

1/3 cup light sour cream

*If you’re using frozen asparagus spears, it is not necessary to steam them (just thaw them to room temperature).

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Cover tightly and refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving. Makes 3 cups

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