Asparagus: Food hero from the ancient world

Why you should put this wonder vegetable on your shopping list today.

By Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers

Asparagus derives its name from the ancient Greeks. But it was the Romans who were hooked on this vegetable. They documented detailed growing instructions, they enjoyed eating it in season, and they were the first to preserve it by freezing. Fast chariots and runners took asparagus from the Tiber River area to the snowline of the Alps where it was kept for six months until the Feast of Epicurius. Today, during the asparagus season every eatery in Germany offers their regular menu and a spargelkarte, a special asparagus menu, that may list as many as 45 variations of this first spring vegetable.

While asparagus may be Germany's favorite veggie, in the US, we manage to eat our fair share of this healthy stalk. Folklore credits eating asparagus with everything from curing toothaches to being a reproductive tonic. A true food hero, modern science has found that asparagus is the second best whole food source of folic acid, a B vitamin that is associated with a decreased risk of neural tube birth defects and lowering risks of heart and liver disease.

According to the National Cancer Institute, asparagus contains a high amount of glutathione, one of the body's most potent cancer fighters. Additionally, asparagus is high in rutin, which is valuable in strengthening the blood vessels. Asparagus is also a source of protein, vitamin A and C, calcium and iron.

Age to introduce: 8-10 months (cooked and puréed).

Toddler Treat: Creamy Asparagus Soup

Teething toddler? Frozen, cooked asparagus spears make a soothing teether. Even some of the pickiest of toddlers will eat their veggies when they are in soup. This soup is a creamy purée, so it if you child's "spoon" skills are not refined enough for soup, pour it in a cup and they can sip away. Always check the temperature of soup before serving it to small children.

Over medium heat, add oil, celery, and onions to a large soup pot. Sauté until soft. Add asparagus, potato, herbes de Provence and soup stock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Purée soup until smooth with a hand blender, food processor or blender. Stir in milk (dairy, soy or coconut). Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.

Leftovers can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Asparagus for everyone

At the market: Select bright green asparagus with closed, compact, firm tips.

Storage at home: Keep fresh asparagus clean, cold and covered. Break off or cut the tough ends and wash in warm water several times. Refrigerate in a covered container or plastic storage bag. Use within two to three days.

Cooking: Asparagus is best cooked quickly to preserve its bright green color and the healthy nutrients. Depending on the thickness, a pound can be microwaved or steamed in five to eight minutes.

For salads or dipping, try blanching asparagus. Simply place stalks in boiling water for one to two minutes. Remove from boiling water and immerse in cold water.

Serving: Here are a few easy ideas to add asparagus in your meals:

  1. Add one cup of cooked, puréed asparagus to your favorites creamy dip recipe. Serve blanched asparagus on your crudité platter with other veggies.
  2. Try cooked, chopped asparagus in egg dishes. Perhaps as a filling for omelets, scrambled in eggs, or added to your favorite quiche recipe.
  3. As a side dish, add cooked, diced asparagus to rice or couscous.
  4. Chinese stir-fry is better with asparagus. It takes three to five minutes to stir-fry asparagus. Replace the broccoli in beef with broccoli with asparagus. Try a scallop, asparagus and bean sprout stir fry, or tofu, asparagus and carrot stir-fry.
  5. Add blanched asparagus to any tossed salad. For a more formal salad, marinate blanched stalks in a vinaigrette dressing for one to two hours. Serve on a plate. Garnish with chopped chives and roasted red peppers.
  6. Grilled asparagus is delicious. Select the larger stalks that are less likely to fall into the coals. Even better, your kids can help out by skewering the stalks together to form "rafts". Simply brush stalks/rafts with olive oil and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place straight in the grill for about ten minutes, turning at least once.
  7. Do you have a recipe for zucchini bread? Try replacing shredded asparagus for zucchini (courgettes) in the recipe.

Asparagus Fun Facts

Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are the mothers of five children and founders of Fresh Baby. The Fresh Baby concept is simple – When you make it yourself, you know it's better. Along with developing products that support parents in getting actively involved in making healthy food choices for their children from the first bite of food, they also publish Fresh Ideas, a free, monthly newsletter that provides healthy eating ideas for the whole family.

Copyright © 2004 Vegetarian Baby. All rights reserved.

October 2004

Please note: Neither Veg World nor its contributors are qualified to give medical or nutritional advice. If in doubt, always consult a suitably-qualified professional.

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