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Spring Time is Time for Asparagus

Spring Time is Time for Asparagus

 

            Asparagus or garden asparagus, scientific name “Asparagus officinalis”, is a spring vegetable. Asparagus is native to most of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia but now is cultivated worldwide.

            Asparagus has been used both as a vegetable and as a medicine.  It is pictured as an offering on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 BC.  A recipe for cooking asparagus is in the oldest surviving book of recipes - Apicius’s third-century AD “De re coquinaria” or “Of Such Cookery”.

            Both the finest texture and the strongest taste of asparagus is in its tips. Only young asparagus shoots are commonly eaten; once the buds start to open the shoots quickly turn woody.

            Water makes up 93% of asparagus's composition. Asparagus is low in calories and is also very low in sodium. It is a good source of vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and zinc, and a very good source of fiber, protein, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese and selenium. The amino acid asparagine gets its name from asparagus, as the asparagus plant is relatively rich in this compound. Asparagus is the leading supplier among vegetables of folic acid. A 5.3 ounce serving provides 60% of the recommended daily allowance for folacin which is necessary for blood cell formation, growth, and prevention of liver disease. Folacin has been shown to play a significant role in the prevention of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, that cause paralysis and death in 2,500 babies each year

            Asparagus shoots are prepared and served in a number of ways around the world, typically as an appetizer or vegetable side dish. In Asian-style cooking, asparagus is often stir-fried. Asparagus may also be quickly grilled over charcoal or hardwood embers. It is also used as an ingredient in some stews and soups. In recent years asparagus eaten raw, as a component of a salad, has regained popularity.  Asparagus can also be pickled and stored for several years. Some brands label shoots prepared this way as "marinated".

       When purchasing asparagus, select asparagus with stalks that are firm, crisp, and have heads that are full, tightly closed, and not discolored. Check the aroma from the bunched asparagus as it should not give off an objectionable odor. The ends of the asparagus that have been cut should be moist and fresh in appearance, not dried or cracking.

Asparagus is very perishable. Fresh asparagus will last about 3 to 4 days while blanched asparagus can last for 9 months in the freezer. To store fresh asparagus, wrap the stalks in a damp cloth and place in a plastic bag that is not airtight. Airtight bags will trap moisture, causing the asparagus to become soggy. Fresh asparagus can also be stored by trimming an inch off the stem end, wrapping ends with a wet paper towel and then stand the spears upright in a glass or upright container filled with a couple of inches of water. Place a loose plastic bag over the spear tips and store in the refrigerator.

            Stem thickness indicates the age of the plant, with the thicker stems coming from older plants. Older, thicker stalks can be woody, although peeling the skin at the base removes the tough layer. Peeled asparagus will however poach much faster.

        Cooking asparagus is a very speedy process. In a saucepan or steamer, with a small amount of boiling water fresh asparagus will be crisp-tender in 5 to 8 minutes. To stir-fry, cut spears diagonally into ½ inch pieces leaving tips whole.  Stir-fry pieces in butter or hot oil, in a skillet or wok at medium high heat. Stir constantly until tender-crisp, 3 to 5 minutes.

 

This salad makes a delicious main course for lunch or dinner.

 

Asparagus and Crab Salad

Dressing:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil

Salad:
2 cups cut-up fresh or frozen asparagus
12 ounces crab meat (fresh or canned) or imitation crab
1 (10-ounce) bag lettuce mix
1 cup 1/2-inch pieces cantaloupe
1 cup sliced seedless cucumber

            For Dressing, combine all ingredients; mix well. Set aside.

            For Salad, steam or microwave asparagus until tender-crisp. Drain and let cool. Cut crab into bite-size pieces. Combine asparagus and crab in a large bowl; add lettuce mix, cantaloupe and cucumber. Toss gently. Pour salad dressing over all. Toss to evenly coat. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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