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Asparagus - the vegetable people stalk about

REGARDED as "the prince of vegetables," asparagus is one of the most nutritionally well-balanced plants. It is ahead of most vegetables in the nutrients it contains and it supplies these in significant amounts. Tan Weiyun takes a sample.

One of the most popular and healthy of all the spring vegetables is asparagus. After a mild frost, warm rain and gentle sun, asparagus rises from the ground like a cheering battalion of green (or blue) soldiers.

Late April to the end of June is the best time to enjoy this healthy tasty vegetable. Though in China it is not a plant commonly found in backyards, asparagus due to its high nutrition content has begun showing up on more and more dining tables for the city's health-conscious people.

"Asparagus is valued for its fresh flavor, and it tastes delicious whether steamed, roasted or sauteed and then eaten al dente," says Gordon Chen, kitchen chef of the Mosaic Restaurant, Sofitel Shanghai Hyland. The hotel is launching its annual "Asparagus Gala" till the end of June, offering guests almost 900 kilograms of asparagus, prepared and served in a variety of ways.

Regarded as "the prince among vegetables," asparagus is one of the most nutritionally well-balanced plants. It is ahead of most vegetables in the nutrients it contains and it supplies these in significant amounts.

It is low in calories, contains no fat or cholesterol and is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, E and vitamin B folate as well as dietary fiber, manganese, copper, phosphorus, potassium and protein.

Asparagus is one of the the major suppliers of folic acid of all vegetables. Research shows that a 150-gram serving provides 60 percent of the recommended daily intake for folacin which is necessary for blood cell formation and growth, and prevention of liver disease.

Its very low sodium and calorie content also make asparagus a nutritionally wise choice for those in weight loss programs.

Asparagus comes in green, purple and white. Green and purple asparagus are most commonly seen while white asparagus is relatively rare.

"White asparagus contains more nutrition because it grows underground without sunshine, and keeps most of its water inside. It looks bigger than green and purple asparagus, tastes slightly milder and is a little more tender," chef Chen says.

The green and purple asparagus receive a lot of sunlight in the growing process, which produces chlorophyll and erythrophyll, and are more readily available in food markets.

"Purple asparagus is much sweeter and more tender than the green one. Thus, it is very suitable for salads," Chen says.

Asparagus can be cooked several ways, one of the reasons it is so popular among diners and cooks. It can be stir-fried with chicken, shrimp or beef, and wrapped in bacon. It may also be quickly grilled over charcoal or hardwood embers and is often used as a major ingredient in stews and soups.

"If you want to cook it at home, boiling it is the best and simplest way to keep its fresh taste," Chen says.

You should first wash the asparagus in cold running water and then trim the bottom third of the stalk. Peel the stalks so that they are the same width as the tip. "Peeling is the most difficult part, because the asparagus is so thin," the chef says. "Just find yourself the right peeling tool."

Put the peeled, trimmed asparagus in boiling water with a little salt. It will be crispy-tender in five to eight minutes.

"Make it quickly and keep it fresh. If you cook it too long, the green will turn yellow," the chef says. "After boiling, wash it with cold water (iced water is better) to keep it green."

If you want to try more, the hotel's "Asparagus Gala" offers a variety of dishes cooked in more complicated methods, including delights like cold green asparagus soup with seared shrimp, white asparagus and arugula salad with grilled sea-scallops, lemon dressing, gratinated penne stuffed with asparagus, lamb kofta with asparagus and cod fish rolled with asparagus and prosciutto.


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