Asparagus is an ancient vegetable

Asparagus is nutrient-rich and there are many ways to enjoy it.

The ancient Greeks thought that asparagus could cure toothaches and prevent bee stings. That is a stretch but the nutrient-rich vegetable has a lot to offer. Just six spears of cooked asparagus come with two grams of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate and only 20 calories. Asparagus is ranked as one of the most ‘consistently clean” fruits and vegetables because it rarely contains pesticide residues. Asparagus appears in markets as early as February, but the peak of this crop's season is in April and May.

Choose firm yet tender stalks. For the green variety, choose stalks with deep green or purplish tips that are closed and compact. Avoid excessively sandy spears. Stalks with a narrow diameter are more tender than thick ones. Asparagus usually comes wrapped in nothing more than a rubber band so there is no plastic, cardboard, Styrofoam, etc.

Store stalks, with bottoms wrapped in a damp paper towel, in the crisper section of the refrigerator. If you don't have a crisper, put them in plastic bags and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator. It is best to eat asparagus the day it is purchased because the flavor lessens with each passing day.

Asparagus has another asset – its flavor is so distinctive that you barely need to season it. You can brush it lightly with olive oil and roast until it is bright green, then spritz it with freshly squeezed lemon. Or sauté it with olive oil and minced fresh ginger and garlic. Asparagus can also be steamed or used raw in hummus or yogurt-dill dip.

Make sure you don’t overcook the plant. When the color hits an olive green, you will have a stringy, soggy, off-tasting mess. You don’t have to break off the woody ends before cooking the vegetable. Just use a carrot peeler to remove the outer layer and you have another inch or so of asparagus to savor.

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