Asparagus is one of the most healthful foods on the planet. It leads nearly all fruits and vegetables in the wide array of nutrients it supplies. Ten ounces (one box of frozen spears) have only 68 calories and 9 grams of protein, yet it is like a vitamin pill, giving you a variety of minerals such as selenium, zinc, calcium, copper, and manganese. Plus, it is very rich in folate.
Asparagus has an exceptionally high nutrient-per-calorie ratio and is the perfect weight-loss food. Anti--cancer compounds that have been shown to prevent tumors and cancers in animals are plentiful in asparagus. Asparagus also contains isothiocyanates, indoles, and sulforaphane, powerful compounds that promote cellular rejuvenation with anti-cancer properties. It is rich in glutathione and rutin, healing compounds for the liver and blood vessels.
The asparagus plant is a hardy perennial vegetable native to Europe and Asia, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. It was a valued vegetable to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. In ancient Greece, the wealthy paid chariot drivers to bring frozen asparagus (stored from the bumper summer crop) from the snow-covered Alps back to Greece when fresh asparagus was not available. Early settlers brought asparagus to North America, where it has been grown since colonial times.
In the past, asparagus was only available in season. Today, modern growing, shipping, and refrigeration methods have made asparagus available year-round. The size of the asparagus does not matter. It becomes soft, cooking easily with just 10 minutes or less in the steamer, and retains most of its vital nutrients when cooked.
Asparagus has a short shelf life once it is picked, which is great because it is easy to tell if it is not fresh and losing its nutrient-rich status. If the rubber band indents the spears, it is not fresh, and if the tips start to become odorous or look wet or slimy, you know it has become bad.
If you plant an asparagus crown in your garden and allow it to develop a strong root system for three years, it will then produce plants every summer for 15 years or more without replanting.
Try these asparagus inspired recipes:
2 large leeks, white and pale green
1 lb. small red potatoes
2 cups water, seasoned with VegiZest or another dehydrated vegetable seasoning
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally
1/2 lb. fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
3 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped
Cut leeks lengthwise and wash thoroughly. Then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Quarter potatoes and steam in a steamer until just tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer potatoes to a bowl. In skillet, water-sauté leeks in seasoned water for 3-4 minutes, stirring until tender. (Add liquid if needed.) Transfer leeks to bowl with potatoes. In skillet, heat more VegiZest water and water-sauté asparagus for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add mushrooms and water-sauté mixture, and continue cooking for about 3 minutes or until mushrooms soften. Combine all ingredients. Before serving, squeeze a little lemon juice over vegetables, stir in mint, parsley, and pepper to taste, and gently toss. Serves 4.
Creamy Asparagus Soup
3 lbs. asparagus
4 tsp. VegiZest soup mix
4-1/2 cups water
2 medium onions, chopped fine
6 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1/2 cup raw cashews
White pepper, to taste
Cut off the tough base of the asparagus and discard. Cut off two inches of the asparagus tips and stew on a low heat in one cup of water for about 3 minutes and save with liquid. In a 4-quart heavy saucepan, add onions, remaining asparagus stalks, garlic, onion, seasonings, water, and the liquid from the asparagus tips. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until asparagus pieces are tender. Purée soup in blender. In final batch, puree cashews as well. Return to 4-quart saucepan, thin with water if desired. Add asparagus tips and serve. Serves 7.