The start of spring is just the time to incorporate seasonal ingredients into your diet.
Asparagus shines at springtime and is especially popular as a side dish at Easter or Passover dinners. It is a nutrient-dense crop that peaks in early spring when the weather is still a bit cool. And there are many healthful ways to prepare it: roasted, grilled, sauteed, steamed, blanched or even as a soup. Try drizzling a bit of olive oil on top and baking at 400 degrees or grilling until tender -- add lemon juice, black pepper and serve.
Or try the accompanying easy recipe for a tender asparagus salad. It is both dairy-free and gluten-free, which can be helpful for those big holiday meals with lots of guests.
-- Asparagus is a low-calorie food (1 cup has 27 calories) that provides many health benefits. In addition to 3 grams of protein and fiber per serving, it is packed with powerful antioxidants including vitamins A, C and K. It offers a great source of folate, which can help reduce birth defects; iron for energy; and potassium for maintaining normal blood pressure.
-- Make sure the spears are bright green, firm, odorless and dry. They should have tightly closed tips. You want to avoid wilted, brittle or limp stalks with fanned tips. You might also find the purple or white variety of asparagus at your local farmers market or grocer. Note: The purple asparagus will turn green when cooked. The white variety is grown in a way that prevents the development of chlorophyll, which is what gives the green variety its color.
-- Asparagus can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days. To prevent the spears from dehydrating, wrap the ends of the stalks with a wet paper towel and place them in a plastic bag. Another option is to cut off about an inch from the stalks and place them in two inches of water with the tips upright, covered with a plastic bag. The woody ends of the stalks can be frozen and saved for asparagus soup.
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Gordon, a master of public health professional and a master certified health education specialist, is creator of the healthy recipe site EatingbyElaine.com.