Eating for Life

Quick-cooking techniques preserve flavor, nutrients in asparagus

Editor’s note: This column was originally published in 2007.

When the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar wanted a quick end to a distasteful task, he’d proclaim: “Velocius quam asparagi conquantur.”

“Let it be done quicker than you would cook asparagus.”

That was, of course, long before the invention of the microwave. These days there’s nothing drawn out about steaming the nutritious spring stalks. Luckily the quick-cooking method also naturally preserves precious nutrients.

Since ancient times the luscious grass-green spears have been considered good for what ails you: a remedy for heart trouble and toothaches, an antidote for bee stings, a reproductive tonic and a natural diuretic.

Asparagus has fewer than 5 calories per stalk and is high in folic acid, which may prevent birth defects. The National Cancer Institute has named asparagus the food highest in glutathione, an antioxidant and potent cancer fighter; it also a good source of vitamin A, B6 and C, calcium, iron, thiamin, potassium and fiber.

Too often served drenched in butter or hollandaise sauce, mild, earthy asparagus is just as suited to lighter preparations. The Star’s Asian Marinated Asparagus bathes the spears in a mixture of low-sodium soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ginger and lemon. The dish is served cold, and etiquette experts say it’s OK to eat the slender stalks with your fingers.


Shopping tip:

Most of the phytonutrients are in the tips, so choose asparagus with tightly closed tips. Look for sesame oil in the ethnic foods aisle.


Preparation tip:

Asparagus grows in sandy soil, so wash tips well to remove any grit.

The natural sugars in asparagus quickly turn to starch. To remove the tough, woody ends, simply hold each stalk, one at a time, between your hands and bend where it naturally breaks.

Asian Marinated Asparagus
Makes 4 servings 1 pound asparagus spears 2 tablespoons water 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce 2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice Zest of 1 lemon, divided

Remove tough ends and scales from asparagus. Place the stalks in glass pie plate and add water. Cover with a paper towel and microwave on high (100 percent) power 3 minutes or until just tender. Plunge asparagus into cold water and drain well.

Place remaining ingredients in zip-top plastic food bag, reserving 1 teaspoon lemon zest for garnish. Seal, then massage bag to blend well. Add asparagus and reseal bag. Refrigerate overnight or at least 2 hours. Drain marinade and discard. Serve cold.

Per serving: 37 calories (29 percent from fat), 1 gram total fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 5 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 302 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.