Sunday, May 4, 2008

Aparagus in Sevananda's Co-Options Newsletter

Check out the article about asparagus I wrote for the May issue of Sevananda's Co-Options Newsletter. Enjoy.

Look, Asparagus!! -- by Chef Asata Reid

Now that spring has sprung, all kinds of lovely produce is on hand. During this time of plenty -- filled with tender peas, beautiful sprouts and baby lettuces, and the first wild mushroom crops of the year -- one vegetable in particular is a welcome addition to my shopping cart: asparagus.

There was a time when asparagus wasn’t available year ’round -- especially organically grown asparagus. But these days even the mega-markets stock asparagus 12 months a year, even if it’s flown in from South America, which makes for one big carbon footprint and prices over $4 a bunch. Yikes!

Locally, it’s available during thespring from Georgia farms, such as Cowgirl City Ranch located about 15 minutes south of Atlanta in Tyrone, and Locally Grown Cooperative in Athens.

The popularity of asparagus dates back to ancient Egypt, where it spread across north Africa and into Europe. Asparagus likes sandy, salty soil, which makes asparagus beds less than ideal for companion planting with the exception of a lovely friend to pair with both in the garden and on the plate -- the tomato, which repels asparagus beetles. In return, asparagus may ward off root nematodes that are attracted to tomato plants. Growing asparagus has other challenges in establishing prolific beds. The crown, which is planted below ground, may take up to three years before it starts to send up the tender, edible shoots. But once a bed is established, this perennial member of the lily family can continue to produce for nearly two decades. Asparagus has diuretic properties and the rhizomes and roots have been used to treat urinary issues. Historically, it has also been used to reduce inflammation linked to rheumatism and arthritis. The vegetable is a good source of folic acid, potassium, fiber and the amino acid asparagines, and it carries high doses of vitamins K, A and C.

Asparagus also provides an indigestible, and therefore diabetic-friendly, carbohydrate called inulin which feed the “good flora” Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli in our digestive tracts.

Choose bunches with straight, slim stems, and tightly closed, dark-green or purple “flowers” at the tip. Cut off the woody base or on slim stems, shave off the fibrous tip with a peeler. To store asparagus, wrap the end in a damp paper towel and stand upright. Use within two or three days for best results.

I’m excited to see the return of local asparagus. It pairs so well with almost all other spring produce: baby beets, the first vine-ripened tomatoes, pattypan squash, zucchini, and morel mushrooms. In fact, tossing some asparagus, cooked or raw, into a dish instantly evokes the need for dining alfresco and enjoying the balmy weather. Asparagus cooks very quickly so it’s a perfect side dish for last-minute meals. And its crispy, tender texture can make a rice or pasta dish more interesting and nutritious. Asparagus loves aromatics like garlic, leeks and shallots, and it holds up very nicely to citrus notes like lemon. To boost the protein power of asparagus, sauté it with sesame seeds, top steamed asparagus with shaved parmesan cheese, or serve with eggs in an omelet or quiche. Try serving asparagus tips to the kids to dip into hummus or dressings along with their usual carrot sticks and broccoli tops.

Chef Asata Reid teaches the Natural Foods Series offered monthly at Sevananda, where she has been a member since 2006. Through her Atlanta-based company, Life Chef, she leads cooking classes and healthy food seminars, and discusses all things food-related at

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