Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ingredient Highlight: Asparagus

I think asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables - it can be served warm or hot, and blends well many different types of food. For example, asparagus is a staple green in the Norwegian society, along with fish and potatoes, but with the right sauce can also be served with almost any Asian cuisine. A great spring/summer vegetable, asparagus provides the body with ample amounts of folate, a B vitamin that protects the heart by helping to reduce inflammation. Asparagus also provides huge amounts of vitamin K, along with large doses of vitamins A and C. The many different nutrients in asparagus have anti-aging functions, can protect against cancer, can prevent osteoporosis, reduce the risk of heart disease, and can help prevent birth defects.

Asparagus is a perennial garden plant in the Lily family (Liliaceae). While over 300 varieties of asparagus have been found, only 20 are edible. While the most common variety of asparagus is green in color, you can find two other edible varieties in stores. White asparagus (which has a more delicate flavor and tender texture) is grown underground to inhibit the development of chlorophyll content, thus creating its distinctive white coloring. It is usually found canned, although you may find it fresh in some select shops. The other edible variety of asparagus is purple, is much smaller than the green or white variety (usually just 2 to 3 inches tall) and features a fruitier flavor. This variety also provides health benefits from phytonutrients called anthocyanins that produce its purple color.

When at the store, you may notice that some asparagus spears are thin and some are thicker. The thick ones are best for roasting or steaming. I find steaming the best and also very quick. The thin spears are ideal for the grill or if you are planning to sautée. Before cooking or consumption, the woody end of the stem should be snapped off. Asparagus may be served warm or cold, with many different seasonings or in many different types of sauce. Look for asparagus recipes coming soon!

Peak season: March to June
Tip: Asparagus has a much higher respiration rate than most vegetables, which means that it should be consumed within 48 hours of purchase

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