Although you can eat it all year, asparagus is beloved as a harbinger of spring. It is the first veggie that sprouts in a home garden and—with a harvest season of March through June—spring is the only season when the freshest asparagus appears in grocery stores and farmers’ markets.
According to the Washington Asparagus Commission, our state’s asparagus crop is second only to California’s. More than 23 million pounds of asparagus were harvested here in 2018, with an economic impact of $50 million for growers and packers. Eastern Washington’s warm sunny days and cool nights, its abundance of natural water, and the mineral-rich volcanic soils provide perfect growing conditions for this veggie.
Bright green asparagus is an ideal side dish in springtime. Not only is this a tasty vegetable, it is a nutrient superfood. Asparagus is high in anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-tumor phytocompounds. It has the highest folate content of all veggies, plus Vitamin K, antioxidants like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and beta-carotene along with minerals like manganese, zinc, and selenium.
Asparagus is low in calories at just 40 calories per cup, and it is among the foods highest in carbohydrates that ferment in the large intestine, keeping the gut healthy and improving the absorption of nutrients.
We enjoy asparagus grilled, roasted, baked, braised, pureed into soup, or raw in a salad. Although it’s fantastic in a variety of recipes, asparagus doesn’t need a lot of fuss. Just sauté asparagus spears and serve by adding a few minced herbs to melted butter.
One good choice is fresh chives. The bite from the chives goes well with butter flavored with a little lemon. This chopped herb can be sprinkled on sautéed asparagus spears or added to any asparagus recipe.
The fresh taste of lemon works great with asparagus. Squeezing lemon juice over the spears is delectable, since citrus brings an intensity to asparagus. Or try the herb lemon balm, as its citronella aroma pairs well with other spices and seasoning. Lemon balm is a great addition to any asparagus recipe that contains egg since its flavor complements both foods.
Dill is often used in pickling asparagus, and adding some chopped fresh dill to butter before tossing with steamed asparagus spears is a delicious way to combine the two flavors. Dill is an herb that doesn’t overpower the fresh taste of the vegetable but adds a subtle flavoring.
Black pepper is an obvious choice for seasoning asparagus as it goes with almost every savory food. The herbal quality of asparagus is greatly complemented by the citrus and pine notes from black pepper. Its spicy heat creates a delicious flavor. It is best to grind the peppercorns just before sprinkling them onto the asparagus spears.
Because asparagus spears contain numerous benefits for well-being, it’s an ideal veggie for a healthy diet. In the supermarket, look for a flat blue rubber band surrounding the bundle of Washington asparagus spears. With a shorter transit time from grower to market, Washington-grown asparagus offers fresh flavor and better quality—and your purchase supports local growers and packers and their families while adding a welcome bit of spring to your table.
Nancy Schaaf is a retired registered nurse and educator whose articles have been published in numerous national magazines. Nancy enjoys writing, traveling, riding motorcycles, and exercise classes.
Grilled Washington Asparagus
Ray’s Boathouse – Executive Chef Paul Duncan
1 lb. fresh asparagus
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon shaved parmesan
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoons fresh cracked black pepper
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
6 basil leaves (sliced thinly)
Wash and rinse asparagus thoroughly, trim the end 1/2-inch inch of the stem. Place the asparagus into a mixing bowl, add oil, salt and mix well, let stand for 2-3 minutes. Place the asparagus on the grill at medium high heat, then allow the asparagus to get color from the open flame; this will give a unique charred flavor. Once color is achieved on one side, flip the asparagus over and repeat. When cooked but still al dente, remove from heat and place on a plate or platter. While still warm add parmesan shavings, lemon zest, and pepper. Finish with fresh basil and serve.