Walk into a grocery store and there in the produce section is an array of fruits and vegetables in every color of the rainbow. There are rows of green kales, spinach, herbs, beets, carrots, celery, and more that are automatically sprayed with water every few minutes to keep them fresh. There are displays full of apples, oranges, pears, bananas, avocados, and melons to name a few, all neatly piled and strategically placed. They are even available frozen or canned.
Nowadays you can get any fruit or veggie you desire any time of year. They are grown from all over the country and the world and are transported by truck, train and air to get them into your local grocery store. Most people don’t know what’s in season any more. You can enjoy watermelon and cucumbers in the middle of the winter, and potatoes and pumpkins in the summer. However, fruits and veggies are most nutritious and flavorful in their peak season (and local if possible).
Now that spring time is arriving it is a great time for foods like broccoli, rhubarb, mustard greens and asparagus. Asparagus is one of my favorite veggies. I cook it in soups, stir fries, roasted and in salads. What makes this veggie so special, and what do you do with it?
Asparagus is loaded with nutrition, health benefits and disease-fighting abilities. It is a great source of fiber, folate, vitamin C, E, A, and K, thiamin, and B6. It has a detoxifying compound that fights off free radicals and carcinogens known as glutathione. It’s also one of the top most packed veggies that has antioxidants which ward off cell damaging free radicals, and each spear only has 4 calories.
They are in peak season beginning late March, April and May. They are in the lily family along with onions, garlic and leeks. There are actually 300 different varieties that are grown from all over the world and a few of those are considered poisonous. We mainly see 3 different varieties on the grocery store shelves: green, white and purple.
The green are the most common. The white variety gets its color from actually being grown in the dark. This prevents photosynthesis which is what gives plants their green color. There is a pile of soil on them and as they grow they are cut with special scissors so they are never exposed to the light.They are more expensive and hard to find due to the labor intensity. The purple variety is slightly sweeter tasting due to higher sugar content. They grow best in sandy, well drained soil and they can grow as fast as 10 inches in 24 hours in good conditions.
Now it has been said that asparagus is an aphrodisiac. Asparagus-lover.com states that in the 300 species of asparagus, there are certain varieties, such as asparagus racemosus, that have been found in studies to be an aphrodisiac in rats. Also, “a 15th or 16th century Indian sex manual by Kalyana Malla called the Ananga Ranga also suggests aphrodisiac properties due to special phosphorus elements that also counteract fatigue.” No really knows if this is actually true or not and it could simply be an old wives tale, but you could always put it to the test and cook up a bunch for your significant other and see if it works.
As most people who consume asparagus are aware, it can give you that weird side effect that you don’t want to talk about—smelly pee. People will tell me that they won’t eat it because it makes their pee smell funny; some even think that this is not good for them. So, why does asparagus have that very distinctive odor when you urinate? Well, all of the articles I have read say the same thing: there is a compound in asparagus called mercaptan which is also found in rotten eggs, onions and in skunks. During digestion, these amino acids that are found in asparagus break down, therefore causing the smell. Not everyone can actually smell this scent—it depends on the person and individual genes. Another old tale is that if you can smell this odor while peeing, then it is a sign of intelligence. Well, I guess that makes me quite the Einstein.
Finally, here are some ways to prepare and store asparagus. It can be eaten cooked or raw, although most people prefer it cooked. When preparing it simply wash and break off the ends. It cooks fairly quickly, taking about 5-8 minutes if boiling, 3-5 minutes if in a stir fry, and baked is about 12-20 minutes depending on how it is prepared. To store asparagus keep it cold and covered in the refrigerator. To keep it fresh, wrap a damp paper towel around the ends or stand them up in about 2 inches of water in a container.
Now that you’ve had a lesson on asparagus, here is a great easy recipe to try:
VEGAN ASPARAGUS RISOTTO
1 bunch asparagus chopped into 1-2 inch pieces, woody stalks removed
1 onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup Arborio rice, uncooked
3 cups vegetable broth
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
4 tsp nutritional yeast to cook with (and more to sprinkle on top later)
-Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, asparagus, thyme and salt, stirring
occasionally until softened (about 7-8 minutes).
-Add rice and stir until rice is well coated and starts to make light snap crackling sounds.
-Add vegetable broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and allowing the rice to soak up all the
broth before adding more – this takes about 4 minutes each time. (It doesn’t get super creamy until
about 3/4 of the way, so be patient).
-Once you’ve added almost all of the broth (about 3 cups total) and the rice is soft and creamy,
add nutritional yeast and garlic powder for another minute or two. Taste to check that the rice is
soft enough and add more spices as needed.
-Serve and eat immediately. This makes 2 large servings.
Want to know what’s in season? Check out this web site. It is a great reference guide to fruits and veggies that are in season. Click on a specific item and it will give you more detailed information.