This vegetable has earned a reputation for being elitist, probably because it's rather expensive when bought out of season. But if you're like many people, you may swear it's worth its weight in gold. Gourmet or not, you can't beat the nutrition you get for what asparagus "costs" calorie-wise. At less than four calories a spear, you can't go wrong unless you unwisely top it with Hollandaise sauce.
Asparagus not only has few calories, it also has major flavor. Most people like to savor their spears, a practice that extends the dining experience and so may prevent you from overindulging in other foods.
Asparagus is ideal for young women; it's a winner when it comes to folic acid -- a vitamin that helps prevent neural-tube birth defects. Two major antioxidants -- beta-carotene and vitamin C -- are also abundant in asparagus. By neutralizing damaging particles in our bodies like smog and cigarette smoke, antioxidants are major contenders in the fight against heart disease, cancer, and cataracts.
Selection and Storage
Spotting the first asparagus in stores is a sign of early spring. Look for a bright green color; stalks that are smooth, firm, straight, and round, not flat; and tips that are compact, closed, pointed, and purplish in color. Thick stalks are fine, but choose stalks of similar size so they'll cook at the same rate. Keep asparagus cold or the stalks will deteriorate, losing flavor and vitamin C. Wrapped loosely in a plastic bag, the stalks will keep for almost a week. To enjoy asparagus year-round, blanch the spears the day you buy them, wrap them tightly in foil, and freeze for up to 12 months.
Preparation and Serving Tips
Wash them thoroughly, and snap off the whitish stem ends. Add these to soup stock instead of just tossing them out. Boil, steam, or microwave asparagus, but avoid overcooking it. When cooked correctly, the spears should be crisp-tender and bright green. Overcooked spears turn mushy and a drab olive green. Simmer for three to five minutes only. For more even cooking, stand stalks upright in boiling water, with the tips sticking out of the water, for five to ten minutes. This way, the tips steam as the stalks cook. Microwaving takes two to three minutes in a dish with a quarter-cup water. You can serve asparagus hot, warm, or cold. For a change of pace, try adding cut-up asparagus to your next stir-fry or pasta dish.
Asparus is a food low in calories and high in volume. By eating larger portions of foods less packed with calories, you squelch those hunger pangs, take in fewer calories, and feel better about your meal, which contributes to how satisfied you feel overall.