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A springtime star: Asparagus

We hear so much about vegetables and how many servings per day/week we are supposed to consume.

We hear this because vegetables are so good for our body and mind, and they give us the nutrition we need to keep our bodies strong and our brains working well.

I am not opposed to eating meat, but I do serve many vegetable dishes, along with the beef, pork, chicken and seafood we eat at my house. The technique to keeping vegetables at the forefront of the meal is to have a wide variety of flavors, textures and accompaniments. This keeps the consumption of vegetables new and fresh at every meal.

Just in the first three months of this year, more than half of my blog entries have been devoted to vegetables. I hope this gives you several new ideas on how to serve and enjoy nature’s bounty. Today, we are covering vegetables again, more specifically springtime’s major star vegetable, asparagus.

The following quote comes from the Washington Asparagus Commission website. “Asparagus is one of nature's true food heroes as a source of protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Asparagus is also packed in the naturally occurring phytochemicals of glutathione, rutin, and folic acid. Asparagus, next to orange juice, is regarded as the second best whole foods source of folic acid. Folic acid is known to lower the risk of heart disease, colon cancer, liver disease, and spina bifida.”

Asparagus plants generally will live eight to 10 years, and the thicker the asparagus stalk, the older the plant from which it was grown. White asparagus is considered quite a delicacy and is grown by placing dirt over the stalk as it grows, thereby robbing the stalk of sunlight and chlorophyll and, thusly, its green color.

When buying asparagus look for consistent color and nice firm stalks with tightly closed tips. Store the stalks upright in about a half-inch of water for a couple of days. The sooner you eat it, the better it will be. Before cooking, be sure to rinse off the stalks as they generally grow in sandy soil and bits of earth can embed in the tips.

Some folks cut, or break, off part of the bottom of the stalk, but they usually remove too much. If you buy slender stalks you do not have to remove very much at all, maybe just a half-inch or so. If you buy thicker stalks, you can still get away with removing just a half-inch but then take a potato peeler and peel away some of the bottom part of the stalk to remove a little of the toughest fiber.

“Tender, crunchy” is the term for properly cooked asparagus. Actually “tender, crunchy” is the appropriate word for most cooked vegetables. Yes, there are those out there who prefer their vegetables cooked soft and mushy, just as there are those misguided souls who like meat cooked well done and dry.

Stir Fried Asparagus and Mushrooms Serves 4

1 pound asparagus 6 ounces fresh shitake mushrooms 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 tablespoon sesame oil 3 drops toasted sesame oil 2 cloves garlic, crushed 4 ounces oyster sauce 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger 1 teaspoon soy sauce One-eighth teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Prepare asparagus by washing and trimming, chop into 1- to 1 ˝-inch pieces. Set aside on paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Clean mushrooms and chop into bite size pieces; set aside.

Heat oils in your wok, add asparagus and mushrooms, and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and continue stir frying until asparagus is crisp, tender (tender crunchy).

Serve topped with a few crunchy chow mien noodles.

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