Asparagus is one of Mother Nature’s most flawless foods—not only delicious and versatile, the lean spears of asparagus pack a significant nutritional punch. Asparagus season in Ontario is typically through late April to early or mid-June. One of the first vegetables to emerge from the spring soil, asparagus announces the triumphant return of another summer season.
In her book ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’, award-winning author Barbara Kingsolver chronicles how she moved her family (her husband and two daughters) from city life in Arizona to a farm in rural Virginia to conduct a year-long experiment in growing and harvesting their own food. Although exceptions were made for non-local provisions such as coffee and olive oil, the family worked together to eat only seasonal, local foods that they or their neighbours close by had produced themselves.
Did you know that after planting it takes three years for asparagus to be ready for harvesting? In her book, Kingsolver revealed how she had prepared her garden for many seasons before attempting to begin her family’s food experiment. In a world of convenience marts and California-shipped produce, it’s easy to take for granted the labour of love that goes into vegetables such as asparagus. Being the first vegetable of the harvesting season, Kingsolver and family are overjoyed when the first spears appear; the excitement is contagious to the reader.
Asparagus has many nutritional and medicinal properties. It is the best supplier of folic acid of any vegetable. In Ayurvedic medicine, asparagus is known to be a super food for areas below the belt: women should take asparagus during menstruation. Its phallic appearance isn’t wasted on men, either, who benefit from increased sexual energy and antioxidant effects on the prostate. In addition, five spears of asparagus contain only 20 calories, zero fat or cholesterol, 400 milligrams of potassium, 3 grams of fibre and excellent amounts of thiamin and vitamin B6.
The following vegetarian recipe showcases asparagus, is quick and easy to make, and delights the tastebuds with a full range of natural flavours:
Asparagus and Peas with Basil
(serves 2 as a meal or 6 as a side dish)
-two bunches (roughly 20 spears) of asparagus
-1 cup frozen peas
-fresh basil (not yet in season; I have some I grew in my sunroom
-rice or quinoa
-Wash asparagus. Do not cut the hard ends off; hold the spear with two hands and bend—it will break naturally where it’s supposed to. Slice the spears in half lengthwise (excluding the tips) and cut into 2” pieces.
-Heat olive oil in a cast iron pan. Slice the shallots and fry on medium heat.
-Add asparagus and stir frequently. You may season with salt and pepper.
-Prepare your grains—brown rice is particularly delicious with this recipe, as is quinoa. For a creamier texture, you may wish to crush an avocado to a paste and mix in with your grains.
-When the asparagus is tender enough to eat, add peas and cook for five more minutes.
-Serve peas and asparagus mixture on your bed of grains, topped with a generous helping of chopped basil.