Asparagus is Here!

I love asparagus season. Every year, starting in March there’s a trickling of expensive asparagus, usually from Mexico, and then around April the farmer’s market fills up with the local, sweetest stalks of the year.

A native of Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia, asparagus is in the Lilly family, a cousin of the onion. Many of us know that promptly after eating asparagus, our urine has a distinctive odor. But it seems that only about 50% of Americans can detect this smell, whereas 100% of the French can, and almost no Chinese. There is debate as to whether this difference is because of one’s ability to metabolize what’s in asparagus into the stinky sulfur containing compounds, or is it the actual ability to smell them. It may be a combination of both, but the group 23andme did a population based study and may have found the autosomal dominant gene that allows us to smell that asparagus pee smell.

Its health benefits have been known for millennia throughout Europe and Asia and include cancer prevention and the treatment of heart disease, gout, joint pains, and constipation. It is a diuretic and may help prevent kidney stones and urinary tract infections. Given its high folic acid content, regular consumption can prevent neural tube birth defects. Asparagine, a “non-essential” amino acid (originally isolated from asparagus), is essential to nerve and brain function and has been used as a nerve tonic among herbalists. Asparagus is loaded with antioxidants and many vitamins including vitamins C, A, E and K, folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, and the minerals potassium, iron, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and chromium.

I always enjoy simply steaming or boiling asparagus briefly (2-4 minutes depending on the size) and adding a little olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper. This year, I’ve also been eating it raw, sliced very thinly in salads with radishes, herbs, and little gem lettuce.

Asparagus scramble:
1 bunch medium sized asparagus, sliced at a diagonal
2 medium red spring onions, coarsely diced
2 tsp Dijon mustard
6 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes until it turns bright green. Add a pinch of salt. Meanwhile, scramble the eggs, adding the mustard to the eggs until mixed well. Add the eggs to the pan with the onion and asparagus. Cook as you would scrambled eggs. Serve with fresh fruit or a small salad and garnish with chopped parsley or tarragon.