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Live Well. Eat Well.

Spring into Green (Asparagus)!

Welcome to spring! This time of year is great as the sun feels warmer, and the trees and grass start to turn green once again. It is also the time of year when we start to see another bit of green. Who guessed asparagus!? Yes, asparagus! It is one of those classically spring vegetables in Illinois, right up there with onions and green peas. (Incidentally, asparagus can also be white, pink, and purple in color.)

From a nutrition perspective, do I really need to convince you that vegetables – asparagus included – are full of healthful nutrients!? Well, asparagus is a source of vitamins A and C, a source of folate and potassium, and a source of fiber. Even better, asparagus is low in calories, fat, and sodium, all of which are nutrients Americans need to limit. I mark that as a good vegetable!

Now, the trick is actually getting asparagus into your home and onto your plate. If you are a frequent buyer of asparagus, you know what to look for. But if you never have, knowing how to buy it, much less how to prepare it, can be intimidating. Remember, this blog is here to give you confidence in trying new foods. So take a leap of faith and consider the following:

  • Buy: When buying asparagus, look for firm and compact tips, smooth green spears, and a uniform color all the way down the spear. Avoid spears with dry looking bottoms or with any decay.
  • Price: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, asparagus is cheapest fresh: $1.83 per pound on average (before you cut off any unusable parts). When 1 pound yields around 2 cups of cut asparagus, it is definitely affordable!
  • Store: Asparagus should be used quickly. To keep asparagus fresh:

1) trim a bit off the bottom of the spears,

2) stand spears in 1 or 2 inches of water (like a vase of flowers),

3) cover with a plastic bag, refrigerate, and use within 2 to 3 days.

  • Prepare: Wash under cold water and trim an inch off the stem end. (The method of bending the spear until it snaps at its tender point is okay but you will waste edible asparagus.)
  • Eat: Asparagus is a very versatile vegetable: it can be eaten raw or cooked in multiple fashions. Try it steamed, grilled, eaten plain, topped with a sauce or dressing, or included in a dish like a salad or casserole. If you cook asparagus, do it briefly. Asparagus takes only a short amount of time to cook.

Even though it goes well with spring and is a great nutrient-dense food, asparagus has always been a tough sell for me. I am not a fan of eating asparagus by itself. Instead, I like to pair asparagus with other ingredients, like in the Asparagus Veggie Sauté recipe below.

Asparagus Veggie Sauté (serves 4)

In this recipe, the asparagus is cooked for a short amount of time to stay tender-crisp. For a fancier look, cut the asparagus on an angle. This side dish pairs well with chicken or beef, and a whole-grain roll or side of brown rice rounds out the meal. Try this recipe and tell me what you think!

1 Tbsp canola oil
3/4 cup sliced onion
1 cup julienne-sliced red bell pepper
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
2 cups chopped asparagus (in 1-inch pieces)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp ground ginger (or 1 Tbsp fresh minced ginger)
2 Tbsp reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 Tbsp less-sodium soy sauce
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper, if desired

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook – stirring frequently – until translucent (about 4 minutes).
2. Add bell pepper and cook until tender (about 3 minutes). Add corn, asparagus, garlic, and ginger; cook about 4 minutes more.
3. Add broth, soy sauce, and red pepper, if desired. Stir to coat vegetables. Bring sauce to a boil and boil 1 minute, stirring mixture frequently.
4. Serve hot. A serving is equal to 1 cup of vegetables.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 90 calories, 4g fat, 170mg sodium, 12g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 3g protein

WEB HIGHLIGHT: Check out more information on asparagus through the University of Illinois Extension. Besides information on nutrition and cooking, read about preserving asparagus at home or even growing your own!

WORD HIGHLIGHT: Nutrient-dense food: A food that has a lot of nutrients but few calories. Most fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense since they pack in nutrients while being low in calories.

Today's post was written by Caitlin Huth. Parts of this post were previously included in Healthy Eats and Repeat. Caitlin Huth, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator serving DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt Counties. She teaches nutrition- and food-based lessons around heart health, food safety, diabetes, and others. In all classes, she encourages trying new foods, gaining confidence in healthy eating, and getting back into our kitchens.