Ingredient of the Week: Asparagus
Asparagus is not something I eat very much of, but it is in season at the moment, which has inspired me to increase my intake. The season for British asparagus runs from the end of April until the beginning of July. This variety is green in colour and deemed by many to be the best. You can also get white and purple varieties. The white is grown mainly in Spain and Holland and gets its colouring from not being exposed to daylight. It is picked as soon as the young shoots break the earth surface. The purple variety is grown mainly in France and gets its vibrant colouring from the higher levels of phytochemicals and anthocyanins it contains, thanks to the environment it grows in. This results in the purple being slightly sweeter than the green or white varieties.
Asparagus is a spear like shaped stalk vegetable with a sprouting tip. It is from the same plant family as lilies, which happen to be my favourite flower. The spears are generally 6-10 inches in length and less than 1 inch thick. It gets its name from an ancient Greek word meaning sprout. The flavour is very distinct and intense. It partners really well with other spring vegetables such as peas and broad beans, as in the popular pasta dish, pasta primavera. You only need 5 asparagus spears to count as one portion of fruit or vegetables.
Why is it good for me?
Asparagus contains high levels of vitamin K, needed for healthy bone formation, but more importantly helping the blood to clot, so vital for heeling wounds. There are also good levels of vitamin A, B, C, and E, so very much the multivitamin vegetable. This means it is beneficial for maintaining healthy eyes, skin, bones, muscles, immune system and energy levels, just to name but a few.
It is a very good source of folate or folic acid, which is needed for cell growth. It plays a major role in the formation of nerve tissue, therefore pregnant women in the first trimester require higher levels of folate than standard. 150g of asparagus is enough to achieve your daily recommendation of folate, which is 200mcg, if you are pregnant then your recommended daily requirement doubles to 400mcg. It also benefits women by helping to relieve symptoms of PMS, as it can ease premenstrual bloating as well as cramps. It has been found to be effective in controlling blood loss and hormonal balance during menstruation.
One further health benefit of asparagus is that it is a prebiotic. This means it supplies food for the many millions of microorganisms that live inside our gut and help to keep our gut environment healthy, while ensuring our digestive system is working well. You can read more about the importance of pre and pro biotics in my blog post about looking after your gut, but essentially a well fed and supplied gut leads to a healthier, happier version of yourself.
How do I prepare it?
Simply hold the asparagus spear just below the sprouting tip between finger and thumb of your left hand and bend the spear with your right until it snaps. Discard the woody end that has snapped off and trim the edible spear to size. If the stalk section still feels a little tough then you can peel away the outer layer to reveal the more tender flesh.
How do I cook it?
Asparagus can be boiled, steamed, roasted or grilled. In any method of cooking it doesn’t require a long amount of time. You still want it to have a bite, so for example you only need to steam it for 3 minutes or roast it for 15. Try adding it in to a risotto like this chicken and spring vegetable one or roasted as in this salmon, sweet potato and asparagus one-pan roast. Try griddling it and adding it to a healthy salad like this asparagus, pea and avocado one. It pairs extremely well with salmon and my favourite way to enjoy it is in this smoked salmon and asparagus pasta, which is my interpretation of a pasta primavera.
Asparagus acts as a diuretic, which helps to keep your kidneys functioning correctly. However this results in your urine having a very distinct aroma, but for some reason only some people can smell it. There is evidence to suggest that asparagus can also help cure a hangover due to its medicinal properties, which relieve feelings of nausea, fatigue and dehydration, while also reducing the toxicity in the liver following excess alcohol consumption.
Asparagus is very difficult to grow and so labour intensive. This results in it having quite a hefty price tag. It is considered to be a delicacy of the vegetable world, but a lot of people are discouraged by the cost. However, its amazing nutritional profile means that it is worth every penny. Next time you see it in the shops, give it a try and reap the benefits. If you have a favourite asparagus recipe that you would like to share, then please leave a comment.
Thanks for reading and speak soon.