Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Asparagus

Spring is just around the corner, which means it’s almost time to take advantage of the many varieties of produce that come into season as the weather starts to get warmer.  Buying in-season fruits and vegetables is a smart choice for two reasons:  produce is generally less expensive when it’s in season and abundant, and it has a higher nutrient content when it’s in-season than when it’s out of season (so although you can eat many varieties of fresh produce, like this week’s healthy ingredient, asparagus, out of season, they will be slightly less nutritious than when they are at their seasonal peak). 

Whether fresh and at its peak or canned, frozen, or out-of-season, asparagus is packed with nutrients – but not with calories.  One serving, or five stalks, contains just 25 calories and is an excellent source of vitamins B6, C, and K (which help improve energy levels, immunity, and the blood clotting process, respectively).  Asparagus also has strong cancer-fighting properties; of all the foods tested by the National Cancer Institute, asparagus has been shown to have the highest concentration of glutathione, one of the body’s most powerful cancer fighters.  Asparagus can be a nutritious, filling, low-calorie addition to any meal or side dish.  According to the California Asparagus Commission, it can also be used as a substitute for other produce in sweet dishes like zucchini bread – save the green ends (the part you snap or cut off when using it in recipes such as the one below) and use them instead of zucchini in your favorite bread recipe.

Sweet and Spicy Szechuan Asparagus

This recipe, adapted from the California Asparagus Commission, makes for an extra filling side dish.  It combines the fiber and high water content of asparagus with strong and spicy Szechuan flavors to leave you feeling satisfied long after your meal is over.

Ingredients
2 lbs. fresh asparagus, ends discarded
1/4 cup soy sauce, low sodium
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, unseasoned
1-2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

Instructions
1.  Cut asparagus into 3 inch pieces on the diagonal.
2.  In a small bowl whisk together soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, chili flakes and pepper. Set aside.
3.  Heat a large sauté pan over high heat. Add 1/2 cup water and asparagus. Cover and cook until asparagus is still crisp to the bite, about 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and pour off any remaining water.
4.  Add oil, garlic and ginger to the pan with asparagus. Sauté until lightly browned.
5.  Add soy sauce mixture. Bring to a boil. Cook until the sauce coats the asparagus. Sprinkle in toasted sesame seeds.
6.  Transfer to a serving platter. Serve immediately.  Serves 6.

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