By Jennifer Brule`
Jennifer Brule` is a classically trained chef, food writer and mother. Over the past decade, she has written for newspapers and national magazines such as Cooking Light. Each of her hip and sassy columns feature an ingredient demystified with humor and facts. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Man, I love asparagus! Although it’s in peak season right now, (February through June) I eat it year round by the plateful. I like the spears best quickly steamed to crisp/tender, al dente perfection. Melted butter is good, but I prefer it plain with just a light sprinkling of sea salt.
Asparagus has so many attributes and just one detractor (that weird stinky-tinkle factor, but I’ll get to that later). It is a powerhouse of nutrients. A heavy 5-ounce serving has only 20 calories, no fat or cholesterol and is low in sodium. Packed into that 5 ounces is 60 percent of the folic acid we need for the day. Folic acid helps blood cell formation, fights liver disease and is thought to prevent neural tube defects in forming babies. Asparagus is also a good source of vitamins B6, A and C as well as potassium, thiamin and fiber.
Asparagus is part of the lily family and is related to onions, leeks and garlic. It was first cultivated in Greece, 2,500 years ago.
It is a plant that takes patience to cultivate. Spears don’t grow for two years after the crown has been planted, but once the plant begins to produce, it will do so, in season, for as long as 15 years.
The rate at which asparagus grows is remarkable. Remember those lapsed time movies we used to see in biology class that showed grass growing in hyper-speed? Asparagus shoots up almost that fast. Depending on the heat of the sun, some asparagus plants can grow as much as 10 inches per 24-hour period.
Preparation of asparagus is as versatile as it is user-friendly. Steaming or simmering is the most common means of it. In a large sauté pan, bring about 1 inch of water to a boil, add trimmed asparagus (keeping the burner on high) and time 5 minutes as soon as the spears hit the water. Remove, drain and serve.
Roasting is a great hands-off way of preparing. Simply spray a cookie sheet with a non-stick spray and place the trimmed asparagus in a single layer (no oil or butter needed). Roast in a 400-degree oven for 6 to 7 minutes. Grilling brings a slightly nutty flavor to asparagus that I love. Simply place plain, non-marinated asparagus on a prepared grill and roll occasionally for 6 to 8 minutes.
Now, back to the stinky-tinkle thing. It seems to be a derivative of the breakdown of amino acids during digestion. Because there doesn’t seem to be any way around it, you could chalk it up to the cost of eating asparagus. Although, curiously, some people don’t experience this side effect.
Asparagus is a unique, versatile and delicious vegetable. It is also one of the most nutrient-packed. Who knew that health food could actually taste this good?