Have you always wanted to know how to pick, purchase, store, prepare, and cook asparagus? You’ve come to the right place! Let this be your guide to this wonderful, green, stalky summer vegetable and fill your curiosity about asparagus, including delicious recipes on how to cook and eat it.
Did you know asparagus first appeared on the culinary scene as early as 3,000 BC in Egypt? It was also eaten in ancient Spain, Syria, Greece, and Rome. Its likeness has been found carved into buildings and painted into pictures, it was served during the Feast of Epicurus, and it was written about in the oldest known cookbook from the third century AD.
Ancient Greeks hailed the vegetable for its medicinal properties, and early Arabs claimed the stalks were an aphrodisiac. Although it seems to have sprouted up around the world throughout history, it didn’t make its first appearance in the United States until about 1850. We’ve been gladly devouring it ever since.
Asparagus is a real game-changer when it comes to serving your veggies with a side of flair. Grilled chicken with a side of string beans? Good. Serve that same chicken with a side of asparagus steamed in lemon juice and garlic? Great! Plus, you’ll get the fun of arranging the stalks on the plate like a fancy chef. Or, you can do what I do and eat them with my fingers. I think this veggie can be considered a finger food, don’t you?
Is Asparagus Healthy?
One of the best! Asparagus is full of good-for-you nutrients like vitamins B, C, E, and K; it’s made up of mostly water; it’s low calorie; it’s low sodium, and it’s delicious. That means when you eat this Old World delicacy, you’re not just enjoying its unique, earthy flavor. You’re also serving up the good stuff your body needs to stay hydrated, full, strong, and working like a well-oiled machine.
The Nutritional Makeup of Asparagus
According to the USDA, one cup of raw asparagus (about six large spears) contains 27 calories, 3 grams of protein, less than 1 gram of fat, 5 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber and 3 grams of sugar. You’ll also be giving your body calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and folate with every delicious bite. What you won’t be eating? Lots of salt, fat, calories, or sugar. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Asparagus for every meal!
The Health Benefits of Asparagus
Asparagus is hydrating. With every serving of asparagus, you’re getting a little more hydrated. Asparagus is 93 percent water. Kinda makes you wonder how they fit all those other nutrients into the other seven percent, doesn’t it? While water might not be your main concern when you’re eating vegetables, it certainly doesn’t hurt. That water will help fill you up and flush you out. Every little bit counts, I say.
- It’s low calorie. Go ahead a stalk up on asparagus (see what I did there?). If you are on a low-calorie diet or watching your weight, asparagus is a great vegetable to add to your meal planning. For every six stalks you eat, you’re only consuming 27 calories. That means you could eat a (literal or figurative) whole bunch of asparagus and get away with only adding about 100 calories to your daily count. Of course, be sure to take into account how you prepare your asparagus as well. Add any oils = add additional calories.
- It’s low in sodium. I think it’s always a good idea to watch your sodium intake. Although your body does need some sodium to take care of everyday bodily processes, too much can be bad for your blood pressure. Sodium can also make you hold on to water, which is taxing on your kidneys and circulatory system and gives you that awful bloated feeling.
- Asparagus is good for your bones. One serving of asparagus contains 32 mg of calcium, a necessary mineral your bones and teeth need to stay strong and healthy. Calcium is also needed by your body to make your muscles contract, signal your nerves, and help to secrete some hormones and enzymes. If you don’t eat dairy, then making sure you find calcium in the vegetable and fruit source you eat is very important.
- It’s full of fiber. Fiber is good for keeping you fuller, longer. One cup of asparagus provides 13 percent of your daily recommended intake of fiber. Fiber can help regulate your digestive system, feed your good gut bacteria, and relieve constipation (like anything else, though, be careful not to overdo it).
- It’s great for your cardiovascular system. The fiber content in asparagus can also reduce your risk of heart disease and help your body maintain its blood sugar levels. Fiber can also help reduce your cholesterol levels, which, in turn, helps lower your risk for stroke or heart disease.
- It’s good for your blood sugar. Asparagus contains the nutrient chromium, which is a mineral that helps your pancreas produce more insulin, a hormone that absorbs glucose. If you eat asparagus regularly, it can help your blood sugar levels stabilize.
- Asparagus is good for your liver. The nutrient choline is present in asparagus, and in addition to keeping your liver healthy, it also is responsible for maintaining your cells and creating neurotransmitters. Eating enough foods that contain choline also can reduce your risk of dementia, heart disease, and cancer.
Does Asparagus Have Carbs?
Yes, asparagus does have carbs, but it only has 5 grams per serving. So it’s definitely a low-carb vegetable. Because asparagus has so many other good nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, adding it to your diet is a great idea — low-carb diet or not.
Why Does Asparagus Make Your Urine Smell?
Well this is the elephant in the room, isn’t it? One we should definitely address though I think. It turns out that asparagus contains high concentrations of asparagusic acid. When the asparagus is digested, it breaks down the asparagusic acid into compounds that contain sulfur. These compounds are responsible for the lovely odor. These compounds aren’t harmful at all — just smelly. Other offensive scents that share these same sulphur compounds include odorized natural gas, garlic, and skunk spray.
How to Choose Asparagus
I found this to be so very interesting: Apparently, an asparagus plant will grow the shoots we eat every. single. day. That means someone has to be there to cut the spear (by hand) within 24 hours or it will go right on ahead and sprout into an inedible fern. So that accounts for the price of asparagus somewhat, doesn’t it?
When purchasing asparagus, look for stalks that are firm, smooth and straight. You’ll want your asparagus to be that nice, dark green color, tapering down to a little white at the bottom. If it’s dull, lifeless, limp, or wrinkly, don’t buy it, it’s been sitting there awhile. You’ll also want to make sure the tips of the asparagus are tightly closed and not sprouting anything or spreading out like an old, used paintbrush. You also want to avoid any that have mushy tips — ick.
There’s a reason you’ll often find asparagus sitting in a nice ice bath or on top of a pad of water — it keeps the stalk from drying out. If it’s not in water, make sure the ends aren’t all dried up and starting to break apart. The moister the base, the fresher the stalks will be.
How to Store Asparagus
Since you probably purchased the asparagus sitting on top of something moist, it’s a good idea to keep this going once you get home. You only want the bottoms to be wet though. That means, no washing the spears until you are ready to eat them. Never, ever, soak it for a long time either, unless you like your asparagus mushy.
It’s okay to refrigerate, just cut a little bit off the ends and stand the whole bunch up in a jar or container with a little bit of cold water on the bottom. You can cover the bunch lightly with a plastic bag and leave it in the fridge up to four days. If this preparation is too tall for your fridge or seems like too much work, you can also wrap the ends in a wet paper towel, then place the entire bunch in a plastic bag and put it in your veggie crisper. Don’t seal the bag tightly, you’ll want to leave it nice and loose to allow for air flow.
How to Prepare Asparagus
Before cooking asparagus, wash it, rinse it, and pat it dry. You’ll want to remove the woody ends — those are not good to bite into at all. You can do this by bending the end, the asparagus will naturally break right where the woody spot begins. If you want a more uniform length to your asparagus, you can always take a handful, line the tops up and slice the bottoms off altogether. Some people like to use a peeler to shave down the bottoms of thicker stalks of asparagus. Any way you choose, it’s good to get those ends off.
Can You Eat Raw Asparagus?
You can eat raw asparagus. It’s just a matter of preference. However, if you want to eat it raw, I recommend preparing it as above, then slicing it very thin at an angle. That way, whatever flavorings you choose to use on the asparagus pieces can permeate through every single bite. Or, use the raw asparagus slices on top of a salad with any other toppings you like — tomatoes, carrots, peppers, feta, olives — you know the drill.
How to Cook With Asparagus & Asparagus Recipes
If you’d prefer your asparagus cooked, you’re in luck. There are about as many ways to cook this versatile vegetable as you can dream up. I’ve found it elevates almost any dish and pairs well with many other vegetables and proteins. Here are my favorite ways to add asparagus.
Asparagus Side Dish Recipes
Not sure to do with that lovely bunch of asparagus you picked up at the farmers market? Add it as a simple side to your favorite protein. Try this recipe for Simple Roasted Asparagus. It really is easy — all you need is olive oil and salt and pepper to allow the clean taste of asparagus to really shine through. Or if you want to fancy up your already fancy spears, try wrapping them in bacon before cooking, like I did in this Bacon and Asparagus dish. Talk about favorite finger foods!
Grilled Asparagus Recipes
Already firing up the grill? Then don’t bother with the oven, too. Why not grill everything? You all know by now that grilling vegetables is one of my favorite ways to eat them. Asparagus grills up in no time flat, so just be sure you watch it and don’t overcook it. One of my favorite ways to eat asparagus right off the grill is to also super simple. One bite of my Grilled Lemon Asparagus with Feta, and you’ll never look back.
Asparagus and Egg dishes
Asparagus and eggs have been together since the dawn of time as far as I’m concerned. Whatever genius came up with this delicious combo forever has a place in my heart. My favorite ways to combine asparagus with eggs include Asparagus Quiche, Asparagus and Mushroom Quinoa Frittatas, Crustless Asparagus and Bacon Egg Pie, and Asparagus and Tomato Frittata with Feta.
One Dish Meals
Who here doesn’t love one-dish meals? Put all your ingredients together, eat a lovely meal, and don’t worry about washing every dish in the house afterward. I enjoy creating one-dish meals for this very reason. Asparagus is simple to incorporate into simple and delicious meals like my Honey Garlic Chicken and Asparagus, One Pan Roasted Salmon, Squash, and Asparagus, Asparagus and Tomato Skillet, One Pan Lemon Garlic Chicken and Asparagus, or this One Pan Paprika Chicken Thighs, Butternut Squash, and Asparagus dish.
Stir-fries may be the ultimate quick and easy meal and often times we forget just how yummy asparagus can be in a stir-fry. Since it cooks relatively quickly, it is a prime candidate for cooking at high temperatures in a skillet or wok. Here are some stir-fries that use asparagus that you will want to try soon – Thai Basil Ground Beef Bowl, Garlic Ginger Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry, and Lemon Pepper Asparagus and Edamame Stir Fry.