South Beach Diet - Veggie of the Month: Asparagus!

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05-06-2009, 03:38 PM
So...I know we're all trying to add more veggies into our diets. We're not sure what might be out there...and even if we find a new veggie, we're not sure how to cook it, what it would go well with, and whether anyone in their right mind would even try it! :lol:

Here's a place to share all that info with each other! Each month I'll post a new veggie along with information on nutritional value, how to cook it, and at least one recipe using that veggie. Then we can all add on to the thread with our experiences with that veggie, recipes we like, and more! When the week is up, I'll transfer the thread to the SBD Recipes forum and the recipes to their respective recipe forums. Remember, if you add a recipe, try to include at least the number of servings and the nutritional information, if you can. :thanks:
This Month’s Veggie is: Asparagus!
There's a ton of great information on asparagus at , including this:

The fleshy green spears of asparagus are both succulent and tender and have been considered a delicacy since ancient times. This highly prized vegetable arrives with the coming of spring. In California the first crops are picked as early as February, however, their season generally is considered to run from April through May. The growing season in the Midwest and East extends through July.

Asparagus is a perennial, an almost leafless member of the lily family. The spears we buy in the store are actually the shoots from an underground crown. It takes up to 3 years for crowns to develop enough to begin producing shoots, but once they do, they can produce for up to 20 years.

Asparagus is a perennial garden plant belonging to the Lily family (Liliaceae). While approximately 300 varieties of asparagus have been noted, only 20 are edible.

Asparagus, its fleshy spears topped with bud-like compact heads, is often thought of as a luxury vegetable, prized for its succulent taste and tender texture. It is harvested in the spring when it is 6 to 8 inches tall. While the most common variety of asparagus is green in color, two other edible varieties are available.

White asparagus, with its more delicate flavor and tender texture, is grown underground to inhibit its development of chlorophyll content, therefore creating its distinctive white coloring. It is generally found canned, although you may find it fresh in some select gourmet shops, and it is generally more expensive than the green variety since its production is more labor intensive.

The other edible variety of asparagus is purple in color. It is much smaller than the green or white variety (usually just 2 to 3 inches tall) and features a fruitier flavor. It also provides benefits from phytonutrients called anthocyanins that give it its purple color. With prolonged cooking, the purple color may disappear.

How to Select and Store
Asparagus stalks should be rounded, and neither fat nor twisted. Look for firm, thin stems with deep green or purplish closed tips. The cut ends should not be too woody, although a little woodiness at the base prevents the stalk from drying out. Once trimmed and cooked, asparagus loses about half its total weight.

Use asparagus within a day or two after purchasing for best flavor. Store in the refrigerator with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel, and be sure to place the asparagus in the back of the refrigerator away from any light, since folate is destroyed by exposure to air, heat or light.

Tips for Preparing Asparagus:
Asparagus can be served hot or cold. While it is not necessary to peel asparagus, you should cut off the fibrous base before cooking. Wash it under cold water to remove any sand or soil residues.

An easy way to get rid of the fibrous bases is to simply hold the asparagus with both hands (one at each end), and then bend it until it snaps. This ensures you always get rid of the fibrous part.

Rachel Ray showed this quick version (which hasn't worked as well for me as snapping, but you could try it): snap a couple of them, then line up the heads of all the other spears. Figure out where the snapped ones end and just cut the unsnapped ones with a knife at that point. Voila!

You can tie asparagus stalks in a bundle to steam them, as this will make it easier to remove the stalks once cooked. If you find you enjoy this unusual vegetable so much that you become a true aficionado, you might consider purchasing one of the special tall, narrow steamers available that allow asparagus to be cooked to perfection-the tips are steamed while the thick stalks are cooked thoroughly in the boiling water. Avoid cooking asparagus in iron pots as the tannins in the asparagus can react with the iron and cause the stalks to become discolored. If your recipe calls for cold asparagus, plunge the stalks into cold water immediately after cooking, then remove them quickly; letting them soak too long can cause them to become soggy.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

For a delectable hors d'oeuvre, roast asparagus along with other vegetables such as pattypan squash, Portobello mushrooms, and beets.
Steamed asparagus served with light lemon vinaigrette makes a delightfully refreshing salad.
Toss freshly cooked pasta with asparagus, olive oil and your favorite pasta spices. We especially enjoy thyme, tarragon and rosemary.
Chopped asparagus make a flavorful and colorful addition to omelets.
Healthy sauté asparagus with garlic, shiitake mushrooms and tofu or chicken.

Individual Concerns
Contrary to popular belief, persons who experience a strong odor coming from their urine after eating asparagus are not in any danger from eating this vegetable. A variety of different chemicals-all breakdown products of asparagus-can be found in the urine in connection with the "asparagus smell". These chemicals generally fall within a chemical category called mercaptans (or to use a more modern term, thiols). They include dimethyl sulfide, dimethyl disulfide, dimethyl sulfoxide, bis-(methylthio)methane, S-methyl thioacrylate, S-methyl-3-(metyhylthio)thiopropionate and dimethyl sulphone. Different people form different amounts of these compounds after eating asparagus, and many people cannot smell the odor, even when they produce the compounds.

Health Info:

Heart Health
Folate is essential for a healthy cardiovascular system ... When folate levels are low, blood levels of homocysteine rise, a situation that significantly increases the risk for heart disease. Homocysteine promotes atherosclerosis by reducing the integrity of blood vessel walls and by interfering with the formation of collagen (the main protein in connective tissue). Elevations in homocysteine are found in approximately 20-40% of patients with heart disease, and it is estimated that consumption of 400 mcg of folate daily would reduce the number of heart attacks suffered by Americans each year by 10%. Just one serving of asparagus supplies almost 66% of the daily recommended intake of folate.

A Natural Diuretic
Asparagus is a very good source of potassium (288 mg per cup) and quite low in sodium (19.8 mg per cup. Its mineral profile, combined with an active amino acid in asparagus, asparagine, gives asparagus a diuretic effect … Historically, asparagus has been used to treat problems involving swelling, such as arthritis and rheumatism, and may also be useful for PMS-related water retention.

Food for Healthy Gut Flora
Asparagus contains a special kind of carbohydrate called inulin that we don't digest, but the health-promoting friendly bacteria in our large intestine, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, do. When our diet contains good amounts of inulin, the growth and activity of these friendly bacteria increase. And when populations of health-promoting bacteria are large, it is much more difficult for unfriendly bacteria to gain a foothold in our intestinal tract.

Asparagus has a strong flavor, so if you aren’t a big lover of vegetables, you may need to try it with a hearty sauce before you can get used to eating it plain.

My mother makes a great, easy sauce for asparagus ( in all phases) that really helped me learn to like it. You can find the recipe here (

Here’s a recipe for salmon and asparagus with sauce for both (safe in all phases): Steamed Salmon and Asparagus with Mustard Dill Sauce (

This recipe teaches you how to cook asparagus so it retains as many nutrients as possible and includes a milder sauce: 5-Minute Asparagus (

A Phase 1 salad option: Warm Asparagus Salad ( and one other, more decadent one: Garlic Shrimp Salad ( you use splenda or stevia in place of the honey)

A Phase 2 salad option: Asparagus-Apple Salad with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette ( is vegetarian, but if you want to make it a main dish and you eat meat, you might add some grilled chicken to up the protein quotient)

A Phase 1 vegetarian option: Asparagus Salad with Beans and Feta (Vegetarian) (

A Phase 2 vegetarian option: Asparagus-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms (

There are tons of recipes out there…hopefully you’ll all share your own!

Here’s one last one—a fancy thing to make for breakfast--Asparagus and Gruyère Soufflé (vegetarian) ( (Phase 2)

Other information on Veggies:
Better Homes and Gardens Slide Show on using spring vegetables, including recipes and info on veggies (;jsessionid=RGLDEOIPLGGWLQFIBQPSAOQ ?slideid=/templatedata/bhg/slideshow/data/springvegetableSS_02252002.xml&catref=SC448)

FAQ for the 5-a-day program on Fruits and Veggies (

Tips on Fruits and Veggies from the CDC (

Vegetables: How to cook, serve, and store these healthy foods from Mayo Clinic (

05-06-2009, 04:20 PM
Grill Em Baby!!! I LOVE grilled asparagus! With a little squeeze of lemon..delish!

05-06-2009, 11:10 PM
Grilled or roasted in the oven with olive oil and a little salt! Mmmm, like candy! :drool:

05-07-2009, 12:16 AM
I just made Gus tonight!

Tonight it was a little olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice over a low flame with a lid for about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper and cook uncovered for another 2. So yummy!!!! I cut them into bite sized pieces.

I love Gus!

05-07-2009, 08:10 AM
Thanks Laurie! We had more last night. :drool: DP will get sick of it but I will eat it just about every day until it runs out. Then I'll dehydrate the woody ends, grind them up and use them for broth all winter :)

My favorites are just steamed, grilled (yum!) maybe with a little rf balsamic dressing, and in a fritata with feta and fresh dill. I think that will be tonight's dinner. That warm salad recipe above is also really tasty cold. We brought that camping last year and I am planning that along with asparagus & fake Canadian Bacon egg muffins for meals in Maine.

Our Co-op has a yummy salad with raw asparagus and artichoke hearts. I'm going to experiment with that one too.

05-07-2009, 08:38 AM
I often just cooked them as desired, stick the leftovers in the fridge, and use them for snacks later. YUM!!

05-07-2009, 08:55 AM
Oh my! I can hardly wait for my asparagus to start producing. I could eat it every day. I just may put on the rain garb and go check the bed later this morning. Claire's is producing but her bed is drier than mine. :( Maybe I'll "borrow" some.

05-07-2009, 09:44 AM
Ruth, mine should be up, don't you think? We got nothing, although it was a gorgeous "fern" all last summer and this should be the third year. :( I'm sad to see that, but hoping I can find a local farmer who has some. :crossed:

Great ideas, chicas! How long do you grill 'em?

Cyndi, you are making me almost desperate for a dehydrator!!! :tantrum: How do you grind the stems once they are dehydrated? Food processor? Coffee grinder? Old mortar and pestle? ;)

05-07-2009, 10:54 AM
My favorite way with asparagus is roasted in the oven with olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper.

For special occasions, though, DH and I wrap a bunch with bacon, season as above, and roast it. MMMMMMMM...good! (Perfect accompaniment to our steak nights!!)

05-07-2009, 12:22 PM
How long do you roast them in the oven for and at what temperature? The last two times I tried it with olive oil and laid them in a cookie sheet, but I definitely overcooked them.

05-07-2009, 12:44 PM
I usually stick them in at 350 for 35 - 45 minutes. DH and I really like the tops to be VERY crispy.

05-07-2009, 03:57 PM
Laurie- I have a coffee grinder I keep just for veggies (it's labeled with permanent marker just to make sure there are no mix-ups!). I also use all my veggie ends, leaves and stems and make a powder I use as a thickener and filler for stews, loaves, and other stuff.

05-07-2009, 04:25 PM
The farmer at my local produce stand talked me into trying a fresh-picked stalk of asparagus raw. I was hesitant at first, but wow - was it wonderful!! And now, this is the only way my DS7 will eat it... Me, I just steam them. Local asparagus is in season now in Western PA - yay!

05-07-2009, 05:38 PM
Hey Cyndi, DH and I are thinking of investing in a dehydrator the summer/fall. Is there a particular brand/type you suggest?

05-07-2009, 08:00 PM
Kim - ah the question. If I had it to do over and I had the money to spend I would definitely get an Excalibur. Since I didn't know much then and didn't know how much I would use it, I bought the Nesco Gardenmaster. I do really like mine and it does everything I need it to, so no complaints. There is a yahoo groups listserv worth joining if you buy one. It's high volume but the people there really know all sorts of tricks and tips for things. I've learned so much from them and use my dehydrator more than I would have without all their ideas.

05-07-2009, 10:49 PM
Thanks, Cyndi! The Excalibur Nine-Tray is the one we've been coveting. We're going to have to be patient and save up for it. I think it will definitely be the fall before we order it.

05-11-2009, 04:40 PM
Kim, that's just the one I want, too. Wonder if there's any chance of getting a used one on Craigslist or something? :crossed:

Cyndi, the ground veggies are a brilliant idea!

05-11-2009, 04:45 PM
Yippee! My asparagus is ready! I didn't even clean off the bed this spring and there it is. ASparagus and salmon for dinner for sure tonight.

05-11-2009, 04:51 PM
I am sooooo jealous of you who have grown asparagus- I need to look into that! My fave is probably in risotto- sometimes I make it with brown rice instead of arborio- almost as good :) I use veggie stock and crimini mushrooms, and some fresh parmesan to flavor! YUM!

05-13-2009, 11:56 AM
Ruth, if I cut what's growing, will more come up? At some point, should I let some of them grow?

05-13-2009, 01:09 PM
Laurie, go ahead and cut until they get ahead of you and start to go to seed. I sometimes have asparagus until the end of June and then I let it grow. If we get a hot spell and it gets ahead of me, I have to quit picking earlier.