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The Health Benefits of Asparagus

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

May 10, 2019

Asparagus originated in Eastern Mediterranean countries. Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians ate asparagus 2,000 years ago. Romans spread the culture of growing asparagus along with their empire throughout Europe. Nowadays, California leads the nation in asparagus production, accounting for nearly 50% of all asparagus grown in the US.

Asparagus is a healthy vegetable and a great source of potassium, copper, calcium, iron, and phosphorus. It is also rich in insoluble fiber and vitamins (A, B1, B2, B6, B9 and C). This vegetable contains sulforaphane, the same phytochemicals found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. Also, it contains fructosanes and beta asparagine which are known for their diuretic properties, and sulphurous components which contribute to the peculiar odor of urine. For all of this, asparagus can be part of a healthy balanced diet. Remember, there is not one single food that may reduce the risk of cancer, but your overall diet, and lifestyle choices; such as being physically active, limiting alcohol intake and avoiding tobacco.

Asparagus comes in a variety of colors
– Green asparagus is most commonly grown.
– White asparagus is grown by burying the crowns under a foot of soil preventing photosynthesis.
– Purple asparagus is much sweeter and tenderer than green asparagus. Thus, it is very suitable for use in salads. Purple asparagus retains its color after brief cooking such as quick sautéing. But it loses its purple and changes to green if subjected to prolonged cooking.

How to choose your asparagus
– Look for firm, smooth, vivid green stalks with tight tips.
– Choose asparagus with firm stems. The tips should be well colored and free of rust spots

How to preserve your asparagus
– Fresh asparagus last about one week.
– Refrigerate them standing upright in a tall container with water and loosely covered with a plastic bag.

5 Tips for using asparagus
1. Before cooking asparagus, it is necessary to remove the bottom of the stalk which is harder and more fibrous. Bend each stalk until the woody end breaks off.
2. You can peel fatter stems to reduce the risk of a stringy texture.
3. Thin, tender spears are ideal sautéed, steamed, or grilled.
4. Broiling or roasting the spears intensifies their inherent sweetness. Steamed or boiled asparagus is great for salads.
5. Grill baskets are especially helpful for preventing asparagus from falling through the grates and into the fire.

This week’s recipe comes from Green Pea & Asparagus Soup with Feta, Mint & Pita Croutons

Ingredients (Soup)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
2-3/4 cups frozen green peas, divided
1 bunch (about 1 pound) asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon honey
Heaping 1/2 cup (3 ounces) feta, divided
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, from 1 lemon
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint, plus more for garnish

Ingredients (pita croutons)
1 large pita, split open and cut into 1/2-inch squares
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions (Soup)
In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, 6-7 minutes.
Add 2-1/4 cup of the peas, the asparagus, chicken broth, salt, and pepper; increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
Add honey, 1/3 cup of feta, lemon juice, and mint. Using a hand-held immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth (it’s okay to leave it a bit chunky if you like). If you don’t have an immersion blender, cool the soup slightly, then purée in a blender in batches. Be sure to leave the hole in the lid open and cover with a kitchen towel to allow the steam to escape. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and more lemon if desired.
Add the remaining 1/2 cup of frozen peas and simmer until warmed through. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the remaining feta, mint and pita croutons. Serve hot or cold.

Directions (pita croutons)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, garlic, and salt. Place the pita bread on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle the seasoned olive over top and toss until evenly coated. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until golden and crisp.

Have a wonderful weekend!
Karen Alexander, MS, RDN, LD/N

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