Asparagus is sold in bundles and looks like stout stems with pointed, feathery tips. While the Romans and Greeks of the ancient era ate it raw, modern-day chefs are adding cooked, roasted or blanched asparagus to their salads and soup recipes.
The mildly flavoured shoot comes in two forms - white and green. The white asparagus grows under the soil, while the green one grows above. The green one is what is commonly used, mainly because of its crisp texture and mildly sweet flavour. If you're new to this exotic vegetable, allow chef Gautam Mehrishi to guide on how to buy, cut, and cook asparagus.
Fresh, evenly tinted asparagus is what you must look for. Its tip must be firm, with no signs of fading. The colour of the tip will vary depending on the variety. If you like a stronger flavour and meaty texture pick the asparagus with a thicker diameter, but if you're a fan of mild flavours, go for a thinner one. Chef Gautam Mehrishi suggests an easy way to check the freshness of asparagus at home. Bend the asparagus from the middle or bottom. If it snaps, it is fresh.
Must try: Egg and asparagus salad
Asparagus tastes best when fresh, on the same day it is bought. Storing it leads to reduced flavour and development of an unpleasant smell. However, if you must, trim the bottoms of the asparagus and place them in a glass of water. Change the water twice a day to avoid any bacterial infestation. Alternatively, you can also cover the ends with a damp towel. Always cover them in a plastic sheet or bag.
Wash the asparagus with clean cold water. With the help of a peeler, peel off the entire excessive spiky outgrowth that you see on the surface of the asparagus. The stalk should appear smooth and bright green. Bend the asparagus and let it snap. Discard the tough woody bottom part as it may not cook well.
Must Try: Strawberry asparagus salad with coconut oil by Chef Shipra Khanna
“Asparagus is blanched in the same way as French beans but takes lesser time. Blanching is one of the best ways of cooking asparagus”, says chef Mehrishi. This is particularly true in the case of fresh asparagus. Check out a few ideas to cook asparagus:
Roast: If you want your asparagus to be crunchy, roasting it in the oven is a good option. Pat dry a bunch of asparagus and spread them on a plate. Drizzle some olive oil over the stalks and sprinkle salt and crushed black pepper. To add a zing, squeeze lemon over them. Bake for 15-25 minutes and they're ready to eat.
Grill: For a tender and smoky bite, prepare the asparagus in a similar way as for roasting but instead of putting it in the oven - grill it. The asparagus will get done in 2-3 minutes.
Blanch: Fill two large bowls with water. Add a few ice cubes to one bowl and keep the other one for boiling. Once the water comes to boil, add the asparagus and let it cook for 2-3 minutes. Use a pair of tongs to transfer the asparagus immediately into the ice-cold water. This prevents the asparagus from cooking further and preserves the bright green colour. You can use these in salads and soups.
Steam: Now, here's a healthier alternative. This way you avoid losing out any nutrients. For additional flavour, add a few mint leaves with the stalks.
Saute: Drizzle olive oil in a pan and add the asparagus stalks. Season it with your favourite condiments. It is a must quicker way of cooking. For an added flavour, sauté it with some garlic paste.
How to use asparagus?
Chef Mehrishi recommends adding cooked asparagus to salads, pasta, sandwiches, sautéed vegetables, soups and pulaos.
Asparagus contains more than 90% water and is a good source of micro-nutrients like zinc and magnesium. It is low in sodium and calories. It has good fibre content, beta carotene and vitamins E, C and K. Asparagus also contains a good amount of calcium and B vitamins like thiamine and riboflavin. It acts as a diuretic and gets rid of all the toxins from the bloodstream.