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Asparagus steamed or stir fried still tasty

April 28, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Asparagus is spring's most luxurious vegetable. It was once cultivated for medicinal purposes as a natural remedy for blood cleansing and diuretic properties.

Botanically, asparagus is a member of the lily family, closely related to onions and leeks, though it bears no resemblance to them in appearance or flavor. Asparagus comes in a variety of colors including white, violet-green, pink and purple.

Asparagus is a nutrient-dense food, which in high in folic acid and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and thiamin. Asparagus has no fat, contains no cholesterol and is low in sodium.

When choosing fresh asparagus, look for firm stalks with a rich green or violet-green color and tightly closed tips. An open head happens when the weather warms and the head grows too fast. With white asparagus, other than color, the same tips apply. White asparagus is grown in low light, which does not allow it to absorb the chlorophyll responsible for the green color. The appearance is different, but the taste is the same.

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Larger stalks typically offer the best flavor and quality; a thinner stalk can indicate toughness or late-season growth. Pencil thin or thick stems can be equally delicious. Contrary to popular belief, thinner stems are not an indication of tenderness. Thick stems are already thick when they poke their heads out of the soil and thin stems do not get thicker with age. Tenderness is related to maturity and freshness.

Keep fresh asparagus clean, cold and covered. Trim the stem end about 1/4 inch and wash in warm water several times. Pat dry and place in moisture-proof wrapping. Refrigerate and use within two to three days for best quality. To maintain freshness, wrap a moist paper towel around the stem ends or stand upright in two inches of cold water.

To freeze fresh asparagus start by washing asparagus thoroughly and trimming stem ends slightly. Leave spears whole or cut into 2-inch lengths. Blanch in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. Cool immediately in ice water. Drain well and pack in plastic freezer bags or containers, leaving no excess air space. Seal, label and freeze. Use within eight months for best quality. Do not defrost before cooking.

To cook fresh asparagus you can choose to steam, stir-fry or microwave. To steam, cook fresh asparagus in a small amount of boiling water until tender. Fresh asparagus will be crisp-tender in 5 to 8 minutes.

Microwave fresh asparagus by placing 1 pound in a microwaveable baking dish or serving bowl. If cooking whole spears, arrange with tips in center. Add about 1/4 cup water and cover tightly. Microwave at 100 percent power for 4 to 7 minutes for spears, 3 to 5 minutes for cuts and tips. Stir or turn halfway through cooking time.

For stir-fry, cut spears diagonally in 1/2 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.

Fresh asparagus can be eaten raw or incorporated into salads, sandwich fillings, casseroles, and other side dishes. In many recipes, asparagus can usually be substituted for peas or broccoli.

Asparagus is one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables. It leads nearly all produce in the wide array of nutrients it supplies for a healthy diet.

For more cooking and storage tips, and recipe ideas go to http://www.asparagus.com and http://www.calasparagus.com .

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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