Asparagus is a kind of herbaceous plant that is basically cultivated as a vegetable. Asparagus is believed to be associated with the family of onion and garlic. This popular vegetable is known by various vernacular names such as ‘asperge’ (French, Dutch), ‘asparago’ (Italian) and ‘shatavari’ (Indian). Asparagus is a green colored plant with needle-like stems and flowers in the shape of a bell. The fruit grown on the plant is normally poisnous and not suitable for human consumption. The edible parts of the asparagus are its leaves and stems and they are widely used in making several asparagus dishes such as pickled asparagus, asparagus soup and garlic asparagus.
Asparagus is believed to be a very ancient vegetable. Since ancient times this useful vegetable has been used as a folklore medicine. Its delicate flavor and other medicinal properties made it a favorite freshly eaten vegetable for the people of ancient Egypt and Greek. Romans were also fond of asparagus dishes as well as fresh asparagus and they used to store the dried asparagus for winter season. The vegetable has so much nutritional and medicinal value that it gained a special status in the reign of Louis XIV and grown in an exclusively designed greenhouse. Asparagus is the native of Europe, northern and western parts of Africa and Asia respectively. But due to some unspecified reasons, in Middle ages the highly demanded vegetable has lost its value until in 17th century when asparagus has gained the status of being the most valued vegetable.
Asparagus is a commonly used vegetable in culinary world. Young shoots of this greenish vegetable are quite popular in making various asparagus recipes. As soon as the shoots start growing, the woody smell and strong flavor of the plant makes them unsuitable for consumption. The typical way of making asparagus dishes is to boil them and serve as an appetizer with any kind of dipping or sauce. Vegetarian side dishes also make good use of asparagus. Stir-fried asparagus dishes are very commonly served in Asian cuisine. Some of the other ingredients that compliment the asparagus dishes are chicken, beef as well as shrimps. Even bacon wrapped asparagus dishes are widely served as an appetizer in several Asian restaurants. Asparagus vinaigrette also makes a delicious side dish to various grilled meat and poultry dishes. As a healthy vegetable, asparagus has varied uses in making soups and stews. According to early evidences from the culinary world, asparagus was fondly eaten as a raw vegetable and still the same trend is being followed by adding it as a raw ingredient in several salad dishes. ‘Pickled’ asparagus is also a delicacy in various cuisines and served as a side dish. Due to the presence of dust and sand on the roots of the asparagus, it is strongly recommended to wash it thoroughly before adding it to asparagus dishes.
• Creamy white asparagus soup – White asparagus is the main ingredient in this popular asparagus dish. Other ingredients that compliment the flavor of the vegetable are onion, garlic and nutmeg.
• Asparagus with bacon – This deliciously made asparagus dish is made with vinegar and bacon flavor.
• Asparagus quiche – This is one of the most commonly served asparagus dishes for lunch or brunch. Asparagus can be combined with turkey or mushrooms to make the dish more delectable.
• Turkey pasta casserole with asparagus and cheese – It is a hearty asparagus dish containing mini pasta with cheddar cheese and turkey.
Asparagus dishes are most popularly eaten in Asian as well as European cuisines. Stir-frying is the main method used to make asparagus dishes in Asian cuisine. Cantonese-style of cooking involves stir-fried poultry, meat as well as seafood dishes cooked with asparagus. In French cuisine, steamed asparagus is fondly eaten with hollandaise sauce or with other accompaniments such as mayonnaise or butter. Asparagus is grown in UK for a very short period of time and its high local demand makes it a ‘premium’ vegetable in the country. Exotic and gourmet asparagus recipes are the highlights of the English cuisine. Continental and European cuisines also showcase the strong demand for the white asparagus dishes and the vegetable is locally known as ‘white gold’.
• Boiled – Asparagus dishes are mostly made while boiling the vegetable.
• Steamed – Steamed asparagus is widely eaten as an appetizer with different kind of dips and sauces.
• Stir-fried – Stir-fried asparagus recipes are some of the most popular asparagus recipes in Asian cuisine.
• Grilled – Grilling makes the asparagus a highly delectable vegetable and it is relatively easy to grill the vegetable on charcoal.
• Baked – Asparagus casserole dishes are made by baked method.
Asparagus or asparagus recipes are a rich source of folate. Vitamin E and C are also found in asparagus. The vegetable is a useful source of beta carotene that is converted into vitamin A by the body itself. The low-sodium and low-calorie properties of asparagus make it a highly nutritive vegetable. Proteins, magnesium and zinc are also some of the other nutrients that are present in small amounts in the asparagus. Asparagus is a mild laxative and also contains diuretic properties. It is also popular as a folk medicine and used as a sedative and tonic to treat neuritis and rheumatism.
GOUT sufferers should avoid raw asparagus as well as asparagus dishes as this is one of the few vegetables high in purines. A high intake of purines gradually builds up the uric acid salts in the joints, which can lead to more painful conditions.
Asparagus should always be purchased in fresh form to obtain most of its nutrients. Dried asparagus is also highly nutritional if it is properly dehydrated under suitable conditions. Asparagus spoils rapidly in refrigerator hence it can be freeze and thawed as and when required. Home-canning is also a preferred method of asparagus storage.
There are three varieties of edible asparagus: green, purple and white.
• Green – This is the most commonly used variety of asparagus.
• White – Also known as ‘spargel’. It has less bitter taste as compared to green variety
• Purple – Mostly grown in Italy and has less dietary fiber with high sugar levels.
• Asparagus contains certain sulphur-like compounds that give a distinctive smell in urine.