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Exploring Asparagus

Universally popular and available year-round, asparagus is appreciated for its versatility. There are hundreds of recipes using this member of the lily family, which can be steamed, roasted, grilled, baked or eaten raw.

Low in calories and full of antioxidants, asparagus is considered a “super food.” A good source of fiber and protein, asparagus contains two to three grams each per serving and delivers important vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C and K, iron and manganese.

When purchasing, look for firm stalks with tight, bright tips and stem ends that are not dried out or split. Store this vegetable “bouquet” in the refrigerator up to four days by placing stems upright in about an inch of water. Cover the asparagus with plastic wrap. When ready to prepare, thoroughly rinse the asparagus and simply snap off the ends of each stalk. They will naturally separate at the woody part.

Asparagus varies in size, with a range of thicknesses including thin (pencil), regular and grilling. The size of the spears is an indication of the plant’s age – the thicker the spears, the more mature the asparagus plant. Thinner, tender spears are delicious when boiled briefly, then plunged into ice water and drained.

Serve in a salad or on a vegetable tray with dip. Steam or sauté regular asparagus and use the grilling asparagus when you don’t want it to fall through the grill’s grate. Roasting is also a great option for all spear sizes as it brings out the natural sweetness of the vegetable. If you love just asparagus tips, look for these sold in convenient eight-ounce packages in select stores.

Referred to as “white gold,” white asparagus is considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. White asparagus is grown underground to prevent the spears from absorbing sunlight and turning green. The thick, outer layer on white asparagus can be easily removed with a vegetable peeler.

Purple asparagus differs from green and white varieties due to its higher sugar content, giving it a slightly sweet flavor. The deep violet tones come from high levels of antioxidants in the vegetable’s skin. Purple asparagus spears are also more tender than their green counterparts, making them ideal for eating raw. When cooked, it’s best to cook the spears briefly over high heat just until tender-crisp to preserve their vibrant hue. Also, using acidic dressings containing citrus and/or vinegar in the finished dish helps enhance and maintain the deep purple color.