Ahh, fresh asparagus.
Spring has sprung and you can smell epicurean delights in the air! Asparagus, being one of the first vegetables to make its appearance after the winter thaw, emerges from the ground and lands on restaurant menus, at farmer’s market stands, in our grocery carts, and our dinner plates. Chefs—professional and amateur alike—showcase it in everything from cooling soups, crispy salads, and as accoutrements to our main meals. Asparagus also likes to make its presence known in a more personal manner, if you know what I mean—we’ll discuss that later.
But asparagus does more than satiate our taste buds; it also provides a much-needed nutritional boost.
Why is asparagus such a nutrition superhero? Rich in folate, potassium, and B vitamins, this lean green veggie packs a vitamin and mineral-rich punch. Boasting a low calorie count and high protein content, asparagus actually has more protein per calorie than meat. No wonder asparagus was worshipped by ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans. How could they resist these powerful nutritional benefits? Or perhaps it could have been asparagus’s reputation for strengthening sexual dexterity that had these civilizations so enamored? Asparagus’ reputation, being part fictitious due to its phallic shape and part fact given its nutritional components, still remains as enticing as ever.
While we’re on the topic of private matters, many associate asparagus with the odorous urine that is produced after consuming it. Is anyone surprised by this fact? You may be, if you aren’t part of the small percentage of people (approximately 22% -50%) with the genes to detect the smell of the compounds released in one’s urine after eating asparagus. The onset of this strange reaction is remarkably rapid, beginning only 15-30 minutes after consumption. So for those genetically blessed folk, the odor comes from organic sulfur containing compounds (methanethiol and dimethyl sulfide being the most pungent) that your body has metabolized during the digestion process. Now there is some good conversation for your next dinner party!
Now on to more practical information. If you are not savoring asparagus in a restaurant during the peak season, try preparing some at home. When purchasing, choose asparagus with tightly closed purplish tips and firm, shiny, non-yellowed and unwrinkled bottoms. It helps to select asparagus with stems of the same diameter so that they cook evenly. Remember, overcooking asparagus can really ruin the taste, so make sure to cook them just until they are bright green. Consider incorporating asparagus into your omelets, pastas, and grill basket.
You could also opt to forgo cooking; as the outside air gets hotter and hotter, it is nice to keep things cooler in the kitchen. To eat them raw, snap off the tough bottoms and eat them as is; or, for some culinary eye candy, slice the asparagus on a diagonal. Toss them in salads with a tangy vinaigrette, or dip them into something creamy.
Whichever way you choose to enjoy asparagus, to quote David Cohlmeyer, an artisanal vegetable farmer, “Make such to use asparagus so frequently from early May until late June that you will have no desire to purchase the imports during the rest of the year.”
Cheers to seasonal eating!