It's April--which means the cruelest month love is in the airan entire month dedicated to the celebration of my birthday another SOS Kitchen Challenge!
This month, with so many of us thinking about spring and green shoots finally making their way toward the sky, Ricki and I have chosen an ingredient that is itself a harbinger of spring. With its lively green hue and tender, pine cone-like tops, this veggie is often enjoyed even by those who don't otherwise consume many veggies. Our happy ingredient this month happens to be...
When asparagus hits the grocery stores and markets around this part of the world, we know spring is just around the corner. And who doesn't love spring?
Available in most places from April to May (though much earlier in California and much later in the midwest), asparagus is beloved by many as a special treat. Actually part of the Lily family, asparagus is available in three varieties: green (the type with which most people are familiar), white, which is grown underground to inhibit the chlorophyll and thereby prevent any color from developing; and purple, which is much smaller and more delicate than the standard type. My personal favorite among these is white asparagus, mostly for nostalgic reasons. My first exposure to it was in high school, while on European tour with a youth symphony. My French host family served me pickled white asparagus, and I was in shock! I loved it, but our massive language barrier didn't really allow me to ask much about it. Then, I encountered it a year later, while studying in Salamanca, Spain. My classmates and I ordered paella, complete with pasty white stalks of asparagus that looked like disembodied fingers sticking out between the rice and mussels. My classmates had no idea what the stuff was. Thankfully, my prior experience with the albino vegetable allowed me to set the record straight (nerd) and we all ate it. Shortly thereafter, I saw it in the grocery store in my hometown of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and remember feeling very fancy that I could tell my dad all about it.
Why I remember things like this but forget to pay bills and leave my cell phone all over the place is beyond my comprehension.
Perhaps part of asparagus' elite appeal is the fact that it is more perishable than many other vegetables; it stays fresh only a few days, and, in fact, begins to lose its antioxidant value more quickly than other veggies. The best way to store asparagus to keep it fresh is to place the cut ends in a little bit of fresh water; I stand my bunch of asparagus upright in an empty (clean) large yogurt container or glass jar, with about an inch (2.5 cm) of water in the bottom. I invert a plastic veggie bag (usually the one it came in) gently over the spears for storage. It will keep a couple of days this way.
All three varieties of the vegetable contain compounds called saponins, which have anti-inflammatory properties. It's also one of the few foods that contains inulin, known as a "pre-biotic" because it feeds the healthy bacteria (probiotics) in our intestines, thereby encouraging a healthy digestive tract, immune system, and regular elimination (other sources of inulin are chicory, yacon and both onions and garlic).
With its high fiber content, asparagus is a great aid to digestion. It's also an excellent source of folic acid and Vitamin K (essential for healthy blood and bones) and is a good source of other B-vitamins. The high amount of Vitamin A (just 6 spears provide 25% of the daily requirement) is great for healthy skin; and it's also a mild diuretic, which means it can help to reduce swelling or other conditions in which one retains water (such as PMS). Finally, it also helps to detox the body with antioxidants like glutathione (important for liver function). And let's not forget that it tastes delicious and often appeals to folks who don't otherwise enjoy their veggies!
Most of us think of asparagus as a savory ingredient, used in classic dishes like quiche or risotto, above--and of course it's delicious that way! But it's also great shredded, raw, in salads; creamed in soups; or grilled. And if you can think of a tasty sweet use for this vegetable, you'll get an extra-special mention in this month's SOS Roundup! ;)
How to Participate:To play along with this month's challenge, simply cook up a new recipe–either sweet OR savory (or both)–using asparagus.
Be sure to follow the general SOS guidelines for ingredients and submission requirements (please be sure to read the guidelines before submitting! We hate to remove links, but we will do so if they don't comply with the general guidelines). You may submit your own recipe or one you found on a website or blog (even one of ours). Then link up your recipe via the linky tool at the bottom of this post, or any of the other SOS: Asparagus posts that I publish this month. Be sure to also add a link to this page on your post, and if you wish, include the SOS logo.
Your recipe will be displayed on both Ricki's and my blog via the Linky, and will be featured in a recipe roundup at the end of this month. As always, we look forward to more of your innovative, delectable, enthusiastic entries this month!