In Season: Asparagus
Come April, you'll find me stalking my farmers' market for asparagus. Take advantage of its short season with these easy recipes and learn more about its healthy benefits (including, yes, what causes your pee to stink).
Asparagus season runs from late March to June. Though you probably find it year round at the grocery store, it’s never as tasty and three times as expensive. And who knows how far it traveled to get there?! During the season, look for freshly-harvested asparagus at grocery stores and farmers' markets.
Did you know that asparagus is a member of the lily family? Yep. And it's pretty darn difficult to grow, which is why it can be pricey (but totally worth the occasional splurge). Typical asparagus varieties include green (most common), white (the same kind as green, only grown underground without exposure to sunlight) and purple (commonly grown in Europe). White asparagus has a milder flavor than green, and purple has a subtle fruity flavor.
One cup of chopped asparagus has only 30 calories, but a boatload of nutrients. Asparagus is an excellent source of folate and thiamin (important B vitamins) and also a good source of fiber, iron, vitamin C and beta-carotene. It also has asparagine, a special plant compound, which gives asparagus a diuretic effect. Blame that guy for the mysterious odor your urine gets after you eat asparagus.
Quick cooking makes asparagus taste amazing. Though these spears have a unique flavor, asparagus goes well with everything from mushrooms to beef to seafood. Gently steam stalks until just tender and wrap with smoked salmon or top with a light dressing. I love seasoning mine with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and grilling or roasting it to bring out a sweet, nutty flavor. Chopped asparagus also makes a great addition to pasta salad like in this picnic-friendly Portobello and Asparagus Salad from Paula Deen (our first Healthy Eats-approved recipe from the butter queen!). It's also great with stir-fry and risotto.
Shopping Tip: Look for asparagus bunches that are firm, straight and brightly colored. Make sure the feathery tips are tightly closed. Store in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or upright in a container with 1 inch of water. Use them within 2-3 days. You can also blanch and freeze fresh asparagus for up to 8 months.
Recipes to try:
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »