THE LOWDOWN ON ASPARAGUS
One of the first vegetables ready to harvest in the spring is the long tender spears of the asparagus family. Amazingly, Asparagus officinalis has been around since 3000 BC, with evidence suggesting that it was cultivated by Ancient Egyptians. Asparagus’ value has continued to be widely known and Peru, China and Mexico are the top exporters of it, while the United States ranks as the number one importer of this delicious vegetable.
For the gardeners amongst us, these dainty spears are relatively easy to grow, make a great companion plant to tomatoes, and can be snipped off when they are six to eight inches tall. The growing season depends upon where you are geographically located, and the outside temperature, but the good news is that after you have finished harvesting, the asparagus plant will flourish into pretty ferns approximately 30-50 inches tall. If this sounds like something you would like to try your hand at, please note that while asparagus is a perennial, it cannot be harvested for the first three years after the crowns have been planted and are getting established. Keep shopping at your local farmer’s market or grocery until you can harvest your own. After that, you have a bounty at your fingertips every spring!
One point of note that I am sure most people who have ingested asparagus at some point or another have noticed, is the after effects. Whether you have verbalized it or not, eating asparagus does affect the aroma of your urine. Yes, now its out there. It wasn’t just you, rather a harmless, but curious phenomena of eating asparagus. Studies are not conclusive about the exact cause of the smell, but there seems to be little reason to be concerned about it. While not everyone may even notice it, it can take as little as 15-30 minutes to take effect. How really very odd, but no reason not to enjoy the benefits of this succulent spear.
Once you get over the weird after-effects of asparagus spears, take a look at the nutritional content of them. Asparagus is one of the best sources of folic acid under the vegetable sun. (Remember that the next time you are pregnant ladies!) It is low in calories, sodium, and contains no fat or cholesterol. What it does have though is potassium, dietary fiber, protein, many of the B-vitamins, rutin, chromium, zinc, vitamin A and C, and an assortment of other nutrients. Asparagus has anti-inflammatory properties, is considered an anti-oxidant, and because of its insulin content is also thought of as a valued pre-biotic that aids the digestive system. All of that in as little as six spears of asparagus on your plate at dinner. That is impressive.
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE ASPARAGUS
Now that you are sold on asparagus, head out to go pick some up. While the green variety is the most common, you can come across white asparagus as well. The main difference is that white asparagus has been buried to prevent light changing the color of it, which makes it less bitter. If you are lucky, you might even come across purple asparagus, but aside from its pretty color, it has less fiber and more sugar, so not necessarily an added perk if you are picking it for its nutritional content.
Whether to pick skinny asparagus spears or big fat ones, is also a matter of preference. What you should look for is tightly compacted heads with a firm stalk. You will want to use asparagus within 48 hours of purchasing it, as it is highly perishable. Store it in the refrigerator wrapped in wet paper towel or a cup of water. When you go to use it, break off the bottom inch of the stalk, as it will be woody, and make sure to rinse your asparagus well to remove any leftover dirt. Then enjoy!
2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Zest and juice of 1 lemon, divided
2 cups diced peeled red potatoes
3 cups vegetable broth, or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup “lite” coconut milk
2 cups 1/2-inch pieces trimmed asparagus, (about 1 bunch)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup crème fraîche, or reduced-fat sour cream (see Note)
1/4 cup finely chopped scallion greens, or fresh chives
Melt butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in curry powder, ginger, lemon zest and potatoes and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in broth, coconut milk and asparagus. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, partially cover and continue to cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
Puree the soup with an immersion blender or a regular blender (in batches) until smooth. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.) Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.
Whisk crème fraîche (or sour cream), lemon juice and scallion greens (or chives) in a small bowl and garnish with a swirl of it.
Asparagus in White Wine
2 pounds asparagus, thick ends removed
¼ cup butter
¼ cup white wine
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add asparagus and cook until just bright green, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from water, rinse under cold water, and drain.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium. Add wine, salt, and pepper, and stir until mixed. Stir in reserved asparagus, cook until thickened, and serve immediately.
Mediterranean Pasta Salad
¼ lb fusilli (corkscrew) pasta
1 large bunch asparagus cut into 1-inch lengths, discarding bottom fourth
½ medium onion, minced
½ basket cherry tomatoes, quartered (gently squeeze to remove seeds)
5-6 medium cloves garlic, pressed
3 TBS chopped fresh basil (or 1 TBS dried basil)
1 TBS chopped fresh tarragon(or 1 tsp dried tarragon)
3 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 TBS balsamic vinegar
3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
salt and cracked black pepper to taste
*optional 4 oz goat cheese
Cook pasta according to instructions on package.
While pasta is cooking prepare rest of the ingredients. Place everything but asparagus in a bowl and set aside.
When pasta is about 3 minutes from being done, add asparagus to cooking pasta. (If asparagus is thick you may want to add 4 minutes before it’s done. Or if it is thin, add 2 minutes before it’s done.) Drain and rinse in cold water in colander when done. Make sure it drains well so it doesn’t dilute flavor. Toss with rest of ingredients, and season with salt and pepper. Serves 4.
Nutrition + Eating Right go hand in hand on your weight loss journey!
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