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Asparagus 101 – The Basics

If you need to know something about asparagus, you’re in the right place! Below is a lot of information from what asparagus is and how it grows to suggested recipe links and everything in between. I hope this helps!


Asparagus 101 – The Basics

About Asparagus
Asparagus spears, as we find them in grocery stores, are actually young shoots of a plant that (if not harvested) would grow into a large fern-like structure. Most asparagus commonly sold in the United States is green. In Europe, asparagus is usually grown in a different manner yielding a white, mild flavored variety of the plant. Creative farmers have recently learned how to cultivate a purple variety of asparagus that is starting to be found in some grocery stores.

Asparagus is native to Africa, Asia and Europe. Over time, it spread to North and South America, New Zealand, and Australia. China, Peru and Mexico currently produce most of the world’s asparagus crop. Most of the asparagus grown in the United States is produced in California, Washington and Michigan.

Nutrition Tidbits
Asparagus is an excellent source of Vitamin K, assorted B-Vitamins, copper, selenium, and Vitamins C and E. It is also a good source of fiber and other vitamins and minerals including manganese, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Of course, being a plant food, it has no cholesterol. One cup of raw asparagus has a mere 27 calories.

Some people express concern about a particular odor in their urine after eating asparagus. This is nothing to be concerned about. It’s actually due to the breakdown of a particular antioxidant in asparagus that has numerous health benefits, especially in aerobic metabolism. In fact, researchers have identified almost 100 different phytonutrients in asparagus that make this vegetable a unique nutritional workhorse, unlike any other. The antioxidants in asparagus make it a powerful anti-inflammatory food.

How to Select Asparagus
When shopping for asparagus, look for firm, brightly colored stalks. Opt for thinner stalks because they are more tender than the thicker ones. Choose stalks with closed and deeply colored tips as they will be fresher. Also, opt for ones with less woody, tough stems so there will be less to discard when you prepare them.

How to Store Asparagus
Store asparagus in the refrigerator and use it as soon as possible after bringing it home. There are two suggested ways to store asparagus while in the refrigerator: (1) Wrap the ends in a damp paper towel, or (2) Stand the stalks upright in a container wide enough to hold them. Add enough water to allow the bottoms of all the stalks to rest in about one inch of water. The upper stalks may be loosely covered with a plastic bag. Change the water if it starts to look cloudy.

How to Freeze Asparagus
To freeze asparagus, wash it, then remove the woody ends and cut it into desired lengths. Blanch it in boiling water for 1 to 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks and length of the pieces. If steam-blanching is preferred, place the asparagus pieces in a steamer basket over boiling water. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and allow to steam for 3 to 6 minutes, depending on the thickness and length of the stalk pieces.

Immediately transfer the blanched asparagus to a bowl of ice water and allow it to cool completely. Drain and place the asparagus in an air-tight freezer container.* It may be stored in the freezer for 8 to 12 months. It is not mandatory to thaw the asparagus pieces before cooking.

* To keep the pieces from bunching up and freezing into one big lump, you could place your blanched and drained asparagus pieces on a tray. Place the tray in the freezer for one or two hours until the asparagus pieces are frozen. Then transfer them to a container or freezer bag for storage in the freezer.

Blanching vegetables before storing them in the freezer is an important step in stopping the enzyme activity which will continue to age them even in the freezer. Some people choose to freeze vegetables without blanching them first. If you opt to do this, be sure to label them with the date and use them within four to six weeks. Beyond that, they will start to deteriorate with changes in color, texture, and flavor.

Fresh vs Frozen vs Canned
Asparagus is available canned, frozen and fresh in most grocery stores. As is the case with most vegetables, fresh is best with regard to flavor, aroma, texture, and nutritional value. Frozen vegetables are a close second choice with regard to those same aspects and are a wonderful convenience when fresh is not available or you are short on prep time in the kitchen. Canned asparagus spears are found year-round in most grocery stores and can be a good staple food to have available in a pinch. Since the canning process actually cooks vegetables along the way, canned asparagus spears are extremely tender and will not have the crispness of fresh or even frozen asparagus pieces. They simply need to be briefly heated and are ready to serve. However nutritionally speaking, the canned variety comes in last on the list.

How is asparagus usually eaten…raw or cooked?
Asparagus is usually cooked before being eaten; however, the thinner, tender stalks can be enjoyed raw. They can be a nice crunchy addition to a green salad.

How to Prepare Asparagus
Of course, give your asparagus a good wash first. Some people will opt to peel the bottom portion of the asparagus stalks with a vegetable peeler if they are thick and somewhat woody, although this is not mandatory. Cut or break off the woody area toward the bottom of the stalks, and discard or save them for stock. Cut the remaining portion into desired lengths or leave whole.

Cooking/Serving Ideas
Asparagus can be boiled, steamed, sautéed, roasted, pickled, grilled, and included in frittatas, omelets, soups, and stir-fries. Thin, tender stalks can be eaten raw. Most importantly, asparagus cooks up and becomes soft quickly, so less is best when working with asparagus. Thinner stalks take less time to cook than thicker ones, so this is important when determining cooking times.

To boil asparagus, bring water to a boil in a skillet or saucepan. Add prepared asparagus to the pan and boil for 5 to 7 minutes, or until as tender as desired.

To microwave your asparagus, place your prepared asparagus pieces into a microwave-safe dish. Add 2 tablespoons of water, cover, and microwave on high for 4 to 6 minutes, rearranging spears midway to allow them all to cook evenly.

To steam asparagus, lay the stalks in a steamer basket over boiling water. Cover and steam for 5 to 7 minutes, until crisp-tender.

To stir-fry asparagus, cut it into one-inch pieces, and stir-fry it in a wok or skillet with 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter or oil, for 5 to 7 minutes.

To roast asparagus, arrange prepared stalks in a single layer in a large shallow baking pan. Drizzle with 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 425°F for 10 to 15 minutes, until tender, but firm to the bite.

To BBQ asparagus, follow the same preparation method as roasting (above), but lay the asparagus spears on aluminum foil on the BBQ grill.

Quick Ideas for Using Asparagus:

* When cooking asparagus, remove it from the heat a minute or so before you think it is done. It will continue to cook briefly after being removed from the heat.

* Add cooked, cold asparagus to your favorite green salad.

* Add asparagus to your favorite omelet.

* Add asparagus to cooked pasta dressed with some olive oil, herbs and Parmesan cheese.

* Sauté asparagus with garlic, onions, mushrooms, and beans, tofu or chicken. Serve over a bed of rice.

* Save freshly cooked leftover asparagus for use the next day in an egg, pasta, or rice dish.

* Cook asparagus in your favorite way and top it with a little vinaigrette dressing.

* Marinate asparagus with teriyaki sauce, then grill it and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Herbs/Spices That Go Well With Asparagus
Basil, bay leaf, capers, chervil, chili paste and chili pepper flakes, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel seeds, garlic, ginger, hoisin sauce, hollandaise sauce, horseradish, mint, miso, mustard (Dijon), nutmeg, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, salt, sorrel, soy sauce, tarragon, thyme

Other Foods That Go Well With Asparagus

Proteins, Nuts, Seeds: Bacon, beans, eggs, nuts, peanuts and peanut sauce, pine nuts, prosciutto, salmon, sesame, tofu

Vegetables: Artichokes and artichoke hearts, arugula, bell peppers, corn, fennel, greens (salad), leeks, mushrooms, onions, peas, potatoes, shallots, spinach, tomatoes, watercress

Fruits: Avocado, lemon, lime, olives (black), orange

Grains: Bread crumbs, noodles, pasta, polenta, quinoa, rice, whole grains (ie barley, couscous, farro)

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter and browned butter, cheese, cream, cream cheese, crème fraiche, Parmesan cheese, yogurt

Other: Honey, mayonnaise, oil, vinaigrette, vinegar, wine (dry white)

Asparagus has been used in: Custards, French cuisine, pizza, quiche, risotto, salads, soufflés, stir-fries, sushi (vegetarian), and tarts (vegetable)

Suggested Flavor Combos:
Pair asparagus with…
Avocado + lime + mint + olive oil
Basil + olives
Bell peppers + eggs + garlic + lemon juice + thyme
Citrus + garlic + herbs (ie parsley, tarragon) + olive oil
Couscous + orange
Fava beans + mint
Garlic + ginger + scallions + sesame + sesame oil + soy sauce + vinegar
Ginger + hoisin sauce + sesame oil + soy sauce
Goat cheese + lemon + olive oil + pistachios
Hazelnuts + Parmesan cheese + parsley
Lemon + Parmesan + risotto
Lemon + pecans + rice
Onions + orange
Sesame + tofu

Recipe Links
Mediterranean Pasta Salad http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=152

Warm Asparagus Salad http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=188

5-Minute Healthy Sautéed Asparagus http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=296

Garlic Shrimp Salad http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=84

15-Minute Healthy Sautéed Chicken and Asparagus http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=139

How to Cook Asparagus in the Oven https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-asparagus-in-the-oven-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-202675

Asparagus, Prosciutto, and Goat Cheese Frittata https://producemadesimple.ca/asparagus-prosciutto-and-goat-cheese-frittata/

Asparagus and Mushroom Tart https://producemadesimple.ca/ontario-asparagus-mushroom-tart/

Breaded Asparagus Spears with Smoked Maple Bacon Dip https://producemadesimple.ca/breaded-asparagus-spears-smoked-maple-bacon-dip/

Asparagus and Cheese Quiches https://producemadesimple.ca/ontario-asparagus-cheese-quiches/

Asparagus Penne Bake https://producemadesimple.ca/ontario-asparagus-penne-bake/

Shaved Asparagus Salad https://producemadesimple.ca/shaved-asparagus-salad/

77 Healthy Ways to Cook With Asparagus https://www.cookinglight.com/food/in-season/cooking-with-asparagus

The 16 Most Delicious Things You Can Do To Asparagus https://www.self.com/gallery/the-most-delicious-things-you-can-do-to-asparagus

30+ Amazing Asparagus Recipes https://www.afamilyfeast.com/asparagus-recipes/

33 Asparagus Recipes for Salad, Pasta, Grilling, and More https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/asparagus-recipes

26 Amazing Asparagus Recipes https://cooking.nytimes.com/68861692-nyt-cooking/999915-26-amazing-asparagus-recipes

About Judi
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.








Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.


Artichokes 101 – The Basics

Artichokes are an interesting item found in the produce section of some grocery stores. Many of us have no idea what to do with them. Yet they have been enjoyed as food since ancient times. A little know-how can go a long way when preparing these flower buds. In the video below, I cover the basics of what artichokes are, how to prepare them, cook them and enjoy them, and more. To access my video notes, please see below the video link. Enjoy!

I hope this helps!

Artichokes 101 — The Basics

About Artichokes
The globe artichoke (also known as French or green artichoke) is a flowering bud of a thistle plant. It is believed to be native to the Mediterranean area. We typically eat the flower buds of the plant before they come into bloom, and also the “heart” or the base of the plant. The mention of the artichoke as a garden plant goes back as far as the 8th century BC. Ancient Greeks and Romans are known to have enjoyed it as a food. Today, artichokes are grown in Europe, South America, and the United States, with California producing almost all of the artichokes consumed in this country.

Nutrition Tidbits
Artichokes are an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, folate, magnesium. They are also good source of vitamin B complex, vitamin K, vitamin E, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc. Artichokes also contain high levels of antioxidants, so they are VERY healthful vegetables to eat!

How to Select Artichokes
Choose artichokes that are heavy for their size, with bright green leaves, and tightly compacted leaves. Avoid those with discolored or brown-tipped leaves or with a dried brown stem. The smaller heads are more tender than larger ones.

How to Store Artichokes
Store unwashed artichokes in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. They should keep for about a week.

How to Preserve Artichokes
Artichokes can be frozen. But, they should not be frozen raw since they will become discolored and have a poor flavor when cooked. To prepare them for freezing, remove all of the outer leaves and the fuzzy choke, leaving the pale, inner leaves attached to the base or heart. Trim the tops and stems. Wash the hearts in cold water and drain well.

Blanch the trimmed artichokes in a mixture of 1/2 cup lemon juice or 1 tablespoon of ascorbic acid to 2 quarts water. Boil small artichokes for 3 to 5 minutes, and medium sized artichokes for 7 minutes. Place face down on a towel to drain. Placed the drained pieces on cookie sheets, face-side up, in the freezer until fully frozen. Once frozen, place desired portions into suitable containers and return to the freezer. Steamed artichokes can also be wrapped in foil, placed in plastic bags and frozen whole. Frozen artichokes should keep for 6 to 8 months.

To thaw artichokes, remove them from the freezer and wrap them tightly in aluminum foil. Place the artichokes in foil over steaming water until thawed and cook as desired.

Fresh vs Frozen vs Canned
More people eat the tender artichoke hearts than those who eat the leaves. This makes frozen and canned artichoke hearts excellent, convenient choices. Choosing canned or frozen artichoke hearts can save money and time in the kitchen, and is often the preferred way to enjoy artichokes.

This website provides an excellent comparison of frozen vs canned artichoke hearts, how to prepare them, along with some proven serving suggestions. It’s well worth visiting if you’re serious about eating artichoke hearts… https://www.thecitycook.com/articles/2011-03-31-canned-and-frozen-artichokes-101

How to Prepare Artichokes
First peel away the loose petals at the base by the stem. Cut the stem away at the base of the artichoke, leaving about one-fourth of an inch. Trim the top points by cutting away an inch from the top to expose the inner part of the petals. Use kitchen shears to trim the thorns from the outer petals. Rinse under cold, running water to remove any trapped dirt or debris, or soak briefly in a bowl of lukewarm water. Allow them to drain upside down on a towel to remove trapped water. Rub a cut lemon half against the trimmed parts of the artichoke or place them in a bowl of lemon juice with water to prevent browning.

Whether you are cooking and serving it whole, or removing the leaves first, the fuzzy choke deep inside must be removed and discarded. It is not edible. The prized “heart” of the artichoke if found below the fuzzy, prickly thistle or “choke.”

Cooking/Serving Methods
When cooking artichokes, avoid using iron or aluminum cookware because they can discolor the artichokes and change the flavor. Instead, use glassware, stainless steel, or enamelware cookware to prepare artichokes. Also, they tend to turn brown easily, so adding some lemon juice to them or to the cooking water will help to prevent that reactions. The following cooking suggestions are provided by https://producemadesimple.ca

To boil, place trimmed whole artichokes in a deep pot and fully submerge in cold water seasoned with 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 2 of your favorite fresh herb sprigs like thyme or basil [optional]. Boil artichokes for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on their size, just until tender. They are done when you can insert a sharp knife with little pressure.

To steam, place trimmed whole artichokes on a steaming insert in a pot filled with water barely touching the bottom of the insert. Steam for about 45 minutes, or until you can easily pull away a petal from the base. Depending on size, cooking times will vary.

To roast, after trimming, slice artichokes vertically in half. Use a spoon to scrape out the fuzzy choke, rub the cut side with half a lemon, drizzle with olive oil and season with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Roast at 375ºF cut side down on a baking sheet until tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Serve cut side up with grated Parmesan cheese.

To grill, after trimming sliced artichokes in half vertically, remove the fuzzy choke and submerge in a bowl of water mixed with the juice of a lemon. This will keep artichokes from turning brown while you prep the remaining other ones. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add artichokes. Boil for about 15 minutes, or until slightly firm. Remove from the pot and drain. Drizzle with olive oil, more lemon juice, garlic powder, salt and pepper and finish on the grill, cooking for 5 to 10 minutes, while turning the artichokes often to prevent burning.

To microwave, after trimming place whole artichokes in a microwavable baking dish with enough water to almost submerge and cover. Microwave on high for 20 to 30 minutes until tender. Cooking times may vary based on microwave and size of artichoke.

To enjoy, remove the pedals of the artichoke and arrange them around your favorite dip. Meanwhile, prepare the heart of the artichoke by twisting off the small tender inner leaves to reveal the soft, fuzzy but inedible choke. Use a spoon to scrape out the choke to reveal the soft fleshy base of the artichoke known as the “heart”. Serve with melted butter as a side dish.

Artichokes are served as a hot vegetable often with a sauce or as a cold salad or appetizer. To eat it, break off the leaves and slide a leaf between your teeth to remove the softer edible portion.
The following are some artichoke serving ideas from the website https://producemadesimple.ca/goes-well-artichokes/

• Use melted butter, garlic butter, or hollandaise as a dipping sauce for hot artichokes.
• Blend artichoke hearts with sautéed spinach, sour cream, cream cheese and parmesan cheese to make a dip for pita chips or your favorite cracker.
• Add artichoke hearts to a grilled cheese sandwich or pizza, or stuff them for an impressive and beautiful dish.
• Toss artichoke hearts, celery and parmesan together for a modern update on a regular green salad.
• Here’s an inspired idea: deep fry artichoke leaves in beer batter and serve with a creamy, herb dipping sauce.

Herbs/Spices That Go Well With Artichokes
Olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, lemon pepper, and basil

Foods That Go Well With Artichokes
Dairy: melted butter, cream cheese, goat cheese, sour cream, cream sauces, Parmesan cheese, and feta cheese

Produce: spinach, lemon, garlic, onion, avocado, eggplant, sundried tomatoes, shallots, potatoes and arugula

Protein: chicken, fish, seafood, and eggs

Other: hollandaise sauce, mayonnaise, bread, pasta, beans, lentils and peas

Recipe Links
Artichoke and Spinach Dip https://www.southernliving.com/recipes/artichoke-and-spinach-dip-recipe

Stuffed Baked Artichokes https://producemadesimple.ca/stuffed-baked-artichokes/

The Most Amazing Roasted Artichokes https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/amazing-roasted-artichokes/

Mediterranean Roasted Artichokes https://www.themediterraneandish.com/Mediterranean-roasted-artichoke-recipe/

How to Cook and Eat an Artichoke https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_cook_and_eat_an_artichoke/

20 Amazing Artichoke Recipes http://www.californiagrown.org/blog/20-amazing-artichoke-recipes/

Roasted Whole Artichokes https://www.thespruceeats.com/simple-roasted-artichokes-recipe-102108

Artichoke Pesto Pasta https://bitesofwellness.com/artichoke-pesto-pasta-sunday-supper/

Whole30 Spinach Artichoke Dip https://bitesofwellness.com/whole30-spinach-artichoke-dip/

Easy Paleo Artichoke Hummus https://bitesofwellness.com/easy-paleo-artichoke-hummus/

Paleo Artichoke Pesto Hummus https://bitesofwellness.com/paleo-artichoke-pesto-hummus/

Steamed Whole Artichokes https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/steamed-whole-artichokes-recipe-1938266

The Ultimate Stuffed Artichoke Recipe https://cookingontheweekends.com/the-ultimate-stuffed-artichoke-recipe/

24 Recipes for Artichokes, Both Fresh and Jarred https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/artichoke-recipes

About Judi
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.