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Prairie Fare: Do You Know What Makes Asparagus Unique?

Asparagus is a nutritional star that is high in fiber, several vitamins and minerals.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

I opened the refrigerator and noted the large bunch of dark green asparagus. I had purchased two bunches of asparagus recently and used one of them.

We rinsed and trimmed the ends of the first bunch of asparagus, then we drizzled it with olive oil and grilled it on a perforated grilling pan. It cooked quickly and made a tasty side dish with ham.

I nearly forgot about the second bunch. It was a little wilted but OK.

“We need to use the asparagus soon. This would make really good soup, but I need to work late tomorrow,” I said to my husband. I never have been subtle.

He caught the hint and made a pot of soup the next evening. We enjoyed the soup with crusty bread.

I grew up harvesting and eating asparagus in the spring. Asparagus grew well in the sandy soil near my childhood home.

I always thought the green spears hiding in the grass were somewhat “magic.” One day you could check the “asparagus spot” and you might see tiny spears. By the next day, the spears were tall. If you waited too long, they went to seed or had the texture of small trees.

Asparagus has a long history dating back more than 2,000 years. Asparagus was seen as having medicinal properties in the Mediterranean area of the world.

During the spring, fresh asparagus is “in season.” Seasonal produce has excellent quality and is reasonably priced in many grocery stores.

Select asparagus that is rich green or slightly purplish. The asparagus tips should be tightly closed and compact, not mushy. To keep your asparagus fresh longer, wrap the ends in a damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag.

Asparagus can be prepared in many ways, from grilled to roasted to steamed. Try adding some to a stir-fry, or enjoy the tender stalks raw in salads.

Asparagus, with just 30 calories per cup, is a nutritional star that is high in fiber, several vitamins and minerals. It provides B vitamins, including folate, and is a good source of vitamins A, C and K. It also is a good source of the mineral potassium.

Asparagus is a notable source of vitamin K, which also is found in leafy greens. Vitamin K is needed for proper blood clotting, and it also plays a role in maintaining strong bones.

However, if you take a blood thinner such as Coumadin, you need to maintain consistency in the amount of vitamin K-rich foods you eat. Be sure to check with your health-care provider, dietitian or pharmacist to learn more about the food-drug interaction.

In other words, you wouldn’t want to go from no asparagus to eating the entire bunch if you are on these medications.

Asparagus has another unique property. Whenever we have asparagus, one of my kids (who shall remain anonymous) always looks at me sideways when I set a bowl of it on the table. This kid knows about asparagus.

Asparagus contains “asparagusic acid” that our bodies break down into sulfur-containing natural chemicals. As a result, eating asparagus may cause pungent-smelling urine, sometimes within 15 minutes of eating asparagus.

This is normal and not a cause for alarm.

However, not everyone can detect the smell. Scientists disagree on whether this is an issue of genetics or digestion. If you can detect the smell, you are among about one-third of the population with the ability.

That’s your science trivia for the day and worth exploring in the privacy of your own home.

In any regard, enjoy some asparagus this spring. Here’s the soup recipe we enjoyed, and I hope you do, too.

Creamy Asparagus Soup

2 pounds fresh asparagus

1 c. onion, chopped

2 (14.5-ounce) cans reduced-sodium chicken broth (divided)

4 Tbsp. butter

4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper (or to taste)

2 c. milk

1/2 c. sour cream, reduced fat

2 tsp. lemon juice

Wash, trim and cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Combine asparagus, chopped onion and 1 cup of chicken broth in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the asparagus is tender. Remove from heat. Puree the mixture in a food processor or blender. In the same pan, melt the butter, then stir in the flour, salt and pepper. Cook while stirring constantly for two minutes. Whisk in the remaining chicken broth and increase the heat to medium high and heat to simmer. Add the asparagus puree and the milk. Place the sour cream in a bowl and add about 1 cup of the hot soup mixture, along with the lemon juice. Add the sour cream mixture to the soup. Do not allow the soup to boil or it may curdle.

Note: Reduced-sodium ingredients were used in the recipe analysis and the amount of salt added was reduced from the original recipe. To reduce the sodium content further, use less added salt.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 150 calories, 8 grams (g) fat, 7 g protein, 14 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber and 620 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication - May 4, 2017

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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