April in Minnesota. As we patiently wait for the last of the snow and ice to melt and the ground to firm up, we start thinking about being outside in earnest. For those who like to garden, their thoughts turn to seeds and planting. One of our first fresh vegetables of the season should be right around the corner - asparagus! They say you can practically see asparagus growing - in the right conditions it can grow an inch an hour!
This popular green vegetable is a nutrient powerhouse. It is also a low calorie choice. Each stalk only contains about five calories, but it contains high levels of vitamins A, B, C, oxalic acid, calcium, magnesium, potassium and folate. And it is high in fiber and an anti-oxidant! It is a great addition to any meal.
The one thing I don't like about asparagus is that once in a while you find a spear that is "woody." So, if you can pick your own fresh asparagus or select it in the store, be sure to look for spears that have a good color, have closed, rounded tips and are a bit white on the bottom. Spears that are limp or that have the tips spread open will probably be tough and stringy. There is nothing worse when serving and eating asparagus than to have one or two poor quality spears mixed in with good ones!
Asparagus can be served a number of ways. It can be served as a side dish to most any entre. It can be added to casseroles for a savory flavor. It can be grilled on your barbecue grill. If you do try to grill asparagus, remember that it won't take as long to cook the asparagus spears as it will your meat, so you will need to adjust your time accordingly.
If you have grilled vegetables before, you know how good they can taste when they are done this way. I like to use a grilling basket for vegetables. It is easier to turn and keep them together in a basket and it keeps them from falling through the grates as well. Vegetables also work well on a skewer. The Turkish word "sis kebap" traditionally means meat that is cooked on a skewer, traditionally lamb. That food item has been adapted to our version of shish kabob, which can be a variety of meats and vegetables that are skewered and grilled.
Another popular way to grill potatoes and vegetables is in a tinfoil packet. This too, keeps the food products together and is an easier way to manage getting them turned and evenly cooked. I know that I'm ready for spring and the fresh vegetables and fruits! Let's get the season started!
Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. In addition to her column, you can also find nutrition tips and ideas on the blog she writes at www.averastorycenter.org.