Although asparagus is available almost year-round now, it’s always exciting to see the spears — green, white, or purple — in the produce section at spring. This is when this vegetable is at its best. With so many ways to prepare it, asparagus also wins points for its good nutrient profile and ability to partner with many flavors from chiles and sesame to fresh lemon. Here’s how to make the most of this versatile vegetable.
Nutrition Notes on Asparagus
Asparagus spears are a great vegetable choice with plenty of nutrients to offer for few calories. Just four large spears of asparagus contain less than 20 calories and provide a good source of iron, folate and vitamin A while supplying almost 45% of daily vitamin K needs. What’s more, asparagus is a natural source of the savory, satisfying, almost meaty fifth flavor umami.
Selection & Storage
Forget the idea that the thinnest asparagus spears taste best. You want the freshest spears — either thick or thin — that feel firm and have straight stalks with tightly closed tips. Asparagus should be a consistent color from top to bottom. And make sure that if you’re buying several bunches, you choose ones that are similarly thick or thin to ensure even cooking times for your recipe. Eat fresh asparagus as soon as possible though it can be kept in the refrigerator for three or four days. For best results, stand the spears in an inch or so of water in the bottom of a container, and cover with a plastic bag. Alternately, wrap the stem ends in a damp paper towel and store in a plastic bag.
Prep School, Plus Recipes
Once you are ready to prepare asparagus for cooking, simply take a stalk in your hands and bend until the woody end snaps off. Cook just the tender upper portion of the spears, and compost the ends or use them to make vegetable stock. Here are some of our favorite ways to use those spears:
- Don’t even cook them! Use a veggie peeler to shave thin ribbons to make a quick Lemony Asparagus Salad. (Thick-stemmed asparagus are best here.)
- Roasted asparagus (without oil!) is an easy side dish for spring entertaining. Or make a big batch during the weekend for quick meals later in the week. And if you want a side with a little more kick, try this Asian-inspired recipe. Leftovers of either roasted option work well in omelets or quinoa or rice bowls.
- The star of the season shines when puréed in Creamy Spring Asparagus Soup.
- Lightly steamed asparagus is wonderful with just a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Or chop and add to tuna, shrimp, chicken or egg salads.
- Keep stalks crisp, tender and bright green by blanching asparagus. Then serve with a dip, as a simple side, as a fresh twist on a potato salad, or the perfect springtime risotto.
What is your favorite way to enjoy asparagus? Please share with us below!