Spring is in the air and that means a whole new crop of seasonal vegetables. In my family, those seasonal vegetables, along with cultural influences, dictated what you could find on the Easter Sunday dinner table. Our traditional meal includes ham, roasted red potatoes, deviled eggs, green beans, lemon meringue pie and asparagus.
Every year I look forward to the crisp green stalks of asparagus in the store. Imagine my surprise when I purchased my first asparagus in Texas and it was over three dollars per pound. You see, where I grew up in New Mexico, the asparagus sprouted along the edges of the irrigation ditches.
In early spring (which is mid-April there), we would grab large paper sacks and a sharp knife and walk down the ditch line filling up our sacks along the way. I thought it grew like weeds everywhere. I didn't know how different the growing cycle was for asparagus until I researched how to grow it in the garden.
Asparagus is a member of the Lily family. The spears grow from a crown that is planted about a foot deep in sandy soils. That is why it grows so well in the high desert of northern New Mexico.
The asparagus is usually not harvested in the first three years after planting to allow for the development of a strong, fibrous root system. It takes a while to get it started, but after harvesting begins a planting can produce up to 15 years without being replanted.
Asparagus is one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables. It is a great supplier of folic acid. It is low in calories, contains no fat and no cholesterol and is low in sodium. It is also low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. It is a good source of potassium, thiamin, vitamin B6 and rutin. It also contains glutathione, one of the most potent anticarcinogens found within the body.
It is best, and cheapest, to buy asparagus in season, but you can find it most of the year if you are willing to pay the price for freshness. When you purchase asparagus, look for tips that are closed and not brown. The asparagus should be in water and a cool environment.
You can store it in the refrigerator for up to five days by keeping the stalks moist and away from strong odors. Like all fresh vegetables, it is better tasting, has better texture and more nutrients the sooner you cook it after purchase.
When you prepare asparagus for cooking you begin by bending the ends until they snap naturally. This is usually the break where the stalk becomes tough. You can toss the bottoms or some chefs use them in stock or peel for use in soups and stir-fries. Be sure to rinse thoroughly because the sandy soil they grow in can get caught in the tips.
Asparagus can be boiled, steamed, baked, grilled, roasted and stir-fried. Although some people like it soft and mushy, I think asparagus is best when it retains its crisp texture and slightly grassy flavor. Asparagus lovers may want to multiply these recipes.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup cashews, chopped
Heat the oils together in a wok or frying pan. Cook the ginger for one minute, stirring often. Add the asparagus and cook for four minutes, until barely tender and still bright green. Stir in soy sauce and cashews and continue cooking for two more minutes to heat through. 6 servings.
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup cider vinegar
2/3 cup soy sauce
2/3 cup vegetable oil
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 pounds fresh asparagus, trimmed
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
In a saucepan, combine the brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, oil, lemon juice and garlic powder. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
Refrigerate until cool. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, bring 1/2 water to a boil. Add asparagus. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 3-5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse in cold water.
Place asparagus in a large resealable plastic bag; add marinade. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight, turning occasionally. Drain and discard marinade. Place asparagus on a serving plate; sprinkle with pecans. Serves 8
12 asparagus spears
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup low-fat milk
Prep and steam asparagus in a steamer basket for 6-8 minutes.
In a medium saucepan, away from heat, whisk egg yolks. Add lemon juice, dry mustard, and Tabasco to the yolks. Whisk together to combine.
Place on medium heat. Slowly drizzle and whisk melted butter into the yolk mixture. Continue to whisk the mixture as you add the milk. Remove from heat. Add a little more milk if you want it thinner.
Serve asparagus with sauce. 4 servings
For the past 20 years, Cindy Welch has been involved with all aspects of cooking, including formal culinary training, experience as food service director for First Baptist Church of Euless, a personal chef and owner of Cindy’s Casa Cuisine. Cindy’s favorite hobby is “providing delicious food for the people of Sulphur Springs.”
Her columns cover all aspects of the cooking experience.
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