Asparagus derived its name from the ancient Greeks. But it was the Romans who were hooked on this vegetable. They documented detailed growing instructions, they enjoyed eating it in season, and they were the first to preserve it by freezing. Fast chariots and runners took asparagus from the Tiber River area to the snowline of the Alps where it was kept for six months until the Feast of Epicurius.
Today, during the asparagus season every eatery in Germany, offers their regular menu and a “spargelkarte”, a special asparagus menu that may list as many as 45 variations of this first spring vegetable.
While asparagus may be Germany’s favorite veggie, in the US, we manage to eat our fair share of this healthy stalk. Folklore credits eating asparagus with everything from curing toothaches to being a reproductive tonic. A true food hero, modern science has found that asparagus is the second best whole food source of folic acid, a B vitamin that is associated with a decreased risk of neural tube birth defects and lowering risks of heart and liver disease.
According to the National Cancer Institute, asparagus contains a high amount of glutathione, one of the body’s most potent cancer fighters. Additionally, asparagus is high in rutin, which is valuable in strengthening the blood vessels. Asparagus is also a source of protein, vitamin A and C, calcium and iron.
Age to introduce: 8-10 months (cooked and pureed).
Toddler Treat: Creamy Asparagus Soup
Teething toddler? Frozen, cooked asparagus spears make a soothing teether.
Even some of the pickiest of toddlers will eat their veggies when they are in soup. This soup is a creamy puree, so it if you child’s “spoon” skills are not refined enough for soup, pour it in a cup and they can sip away. Always check the temperature of soup before serving it to small children.
1 pound of asparagus, cleaned and chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
1/2 tsp Herbs de Provence (optional)
1 cup milk (dairy or soy) OR 1 cup coconut milk
3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Over medium heat, add oil, celery, and onions to a large soup pot. Saute until soft. Add asparagus, potato, herbs de Provence, and soup stock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Puree soup until smooth with a hand blender, food processor or blender. Stir in milk (dairy, soy or coconut). Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.
Leftovers can be frozen for up to 2 months.
Asparagus for everyone
At the market: Select bright green asparagus with closed, compact, firm tips.
Storage at home: Keep fresh asparagus clean, cold and covered. Break off or cut the tough ends and wash in warm water several times. Refrigerate in a covered container or plastic storage bag. Use within 2 or 3 days.
Cooking: Asparagus is best cooked quickly to preserve it bright green color and the healthy nutrients. Depending on the thickness, a pound can be steamed in 5-8 minutes. For salads or dipping, try blanching asparagus. Simply place stalks in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Remove from boiling water and immerse in cold water.
Serving: Here are a few easy ideas to add asparagus in your meals:
1. Add one cup of cooked, pureed asparagus to your favorites creamy dip recipe. Serve blanched asparagus on your crudite platter with other veggies.
2. Try cooked, chopped asparagus in egg dishes. Perhaps as a filling for omelets, scrambled in eggs, or added to your favorite quiche recipe.
3. As a side dish, add cooked, diced asparagus to rice or couscous.
4. Chinese stir-fry is better with asparagus. It takes 3-5 minutes to stir-fry asparagus. Replace the broccoli in beef with broccoli with asparagus. Try a scallop, asparagus and bean sprout stir fry, or tofu, asparagus and carrot stir-fry.
5. Add blanched asparagus to any tossed salad. For a more formal salad, marinate blanched stalks in a vinaigrette dressing for 1-2 hours. Serve on a plate. Garnish with chopped chives and roasted red peppers.
6. Grilled asparagus is delicious. Select the larger stalks that are less likely fall into the coals. Even better, your kids can help out by skewering the stalks together to form “rafts”. Simply brush stalks/rafts with olive oil and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place straight in the grill for about 10 minutes, turning at least once.
7. Do you have a recipe for zucchini bread? Try replacing shredded asparagus for zucchini in the recipe!
Asparagus Fun Facts
Do you prefer green or white? If you are like most Europeans, the answer is white. White asparagus is not a different variety. Its white color is achieved by growing the stalks under mounds of earth so the sun does not strike them to produce chlorophyll.
Given the right conditions of sun and water, asparagus has been known to grow as much as one inch an hour!
Make a masterpiece using asparagus spears as paintbrushes.
About the Author:
Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are sisters, the mothers of five children and founders of Fresh Baby ( www.FreshBaby.com ). They are the creators of the award-winning So Easy Baby Food Kit and Good Clean Fun Placemats, available at many fine specialty stores and national chains including Target and Whole Foods Markets.