By Joan Bahr, MS RD CDE -Registered Dietitian & Certified Diabetes Educator at Southwest Health.
What is that peeking out of the grass? Asparagus. Finally spring is here and the asparagus is sprouting. May is National Asparagus Month and it can be found along fence lines, in gardens, at farmers’ markets, and also in the grocery store.
The asparagus spears can reach a height of 6-8 inches – or considerably taller if left unnoticed during the hunt for the plant. The plant is cut just below the surface of the soil. To separate the woodier portion of the asparagus plant from the tender, delicious portion, the stem is bent and the plant will snap at just the right spot. In California the first crops are picked as early as February, however, their season generally runs from April through May. The growing season in the Midwest and East extends through July.
After harvesting the asparagus, store unwashed asparagus by wrapping the ends of the stalks in a wet paper towel and placing them in a plastic bag. The asparagus can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Asparagus has been cultivated for culinary and medicinal purposes for more than 2,000 years. Versatile and healthy, it can be eaten raw or cooked, and is used fresh, frozen, or canned. It can usually be found plentifully and fresh in grocery stores between April and June. Asparagus adds color and nutrition to a variety of other foods such as omelets, quiches, stir-fries, and pasta dishes. It also pairs well in salads, side dishes, entrées or as an appetizer, and can be boiled, steamed, microwaved, roasted, or stir-fried.
According to the 2015-2020 Guidelines for Americans, Americans are not eating the recommended two and half cups of vegetables per day. Asparagus would be an excellent addition to vegetable consumption.
Five medium asparagus spears (about ½ cup cooked) have about 20 calories. All asparagus spears are not the same size, but this can be used as a general estimate. Asparagus has no saturated fat, sodium or cholesterol, is high in folate, and is a good source of vitamin A and C.
I remember years ago hunting asparagus along the Uncompahgre River in Colorado. We would be so excited to harvest several brown grocery bags-full of asparagus. Previous to the time in Colorado, my experience with asparagus was – mushy, heated-from-a-can. Now my world includes quite a variety of cooked, delicious, nutritious asparagus.
Recipes for asparagus: