Loris Sofia Gregory, Healthy Kitchen Coach, Apple Valley, MN
Valley Natural Foods, 13750 County Road 11, Burnsville, MN 55337
May in Minnesota has our taste buds perking up for those perennial delightful flavors of asparagus and rhubarb. Though asparagus was not grown in the New World until around 1850, there are directions for cooking it in the oldest surviving recipe book created by a Roman food lover in the third century. Asparagus has a long coveted reputation as a vegetable and a medicine, owing to its delicate flavor and its bountiful fiber, protein, beneficial vitamins and minerals. Look for the youngest thin shoots of asparagus, as once the buds start to open the shoots quickly turn woody.
If you are lucky enough to procure some fresh asparagus this month, wrap asparagus in a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator vegetable crisper. Use as soon as possible, within one or two days, before its natural sugars turn to starches. If you cannot use asparagus for more than a day, either wrap the ends in a damp paper towel or bundle the spears with a rubber band and stand them upright in a container in an inch of water.
The website of Featherstone Farm in Rushford Village, Minnesota offers these suggestions for enjoying the spring flavors of asparagus, courtesy of Mi Ae Lipe’s Tastes from the Valley to Bluff: The Featherstone Farm Cookbook (2008).
• If you find young, tender asparagus stalks the width of a pencil, serve them raw with a favorite dip.
• Serve steamed asparagus warm topped with butter and Parmesan cheese.
• Serve steamed or grilled asparagus cold with a simple vinaigrette, or olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt.
• Slice into 1-inch pieces and stir-fry with other vegetables in a wok with a little peanut or sesame oil.
• Add cooked asparagus to your favorite omelet or scrambled eggs. • Substitute asparagus for leeks in a quiche, or combine the two.
• Place parboiled or steamed asparagus spears, tomatoes, mushrooms, and shredded mozzarella cheese on top of focaccia or flat bread for an elegant garden pizza.
• Asparagus and morel mushrooms, lightly sautéed in butter, are a magical combination.
Though coveted as medicine for thousands of years in China, rhubarb as food is a relatively recent innovation. Commoners in 17th century England first realized the delights of rhubarb, after sugar became affordable to the masses. An affordable sweet for children in parts of the United Kingdom and Sweden was a tender stick of rhubarb, dipped in sugar. Rhubarb is still enjoyed this way in western Finland, Norway and Iceland. Chileans sell rhubarb on the street with salt or dried pepper instead of sugar.
Like asparagus, rhubarb doesn’t require much of you. Let fresh flavorful rhubarb be its own star. Cut up the stalks into 1-inch pieces, add a smidge of water and let the pieces simmer gently in their own juice until soft. Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar for each pound of rhubarb and add cinnamon and/or nutmeg to taste. A tablespoon of lime juice or lemon juice also adds some tang. Wrap unwashed rhubarb stalks in a plastic bag and refrigerate in the vegetable crisper, where it will keep up to 10 days. In her novella The First Four Years, American author Laura Ingalls Wilder refers to “pie plant,” which has become rhubarb’s slang name as well as one of the favorite ways to enjoy it.
Additional ideas for your fresh rhubarb, also courtesy of The Featherstone Farm Cookbook, include:
• Top your breakfast cereal with sweetened rhubarb.
• Add very thin slices of rhubarb to spring soups or salads, or anywhere a bit of tartness is welcome.
• Combine rhubarb with oranges, cherries, raspberries or strawberries for a tasty chutney.
• Light, tangy and sweet rhubarb sauce makes a delectable topping for ice cream, pudding, custard or pound cake.
See many more ideas for enjoying fresh spring vegetables at http://featherstonefarm.com/the-crops/. For tasty samples, coaching and more inspiring ideas for healthy eating this month, I look forward to meeting you at my:
FRESH & LOCAL DEMO: Tuesday, May 8, 11 am to 2 pm
Featuring vine-on tomatoes, basil and English cucumbers fresh from Living Water Garden in Wells, Minnesota, “full of life, full of water and full of healthy nutrients.”
FRESH & LOCAL CLASS: Asparagus to Strawberries
Tuesday, May 15, 6:30 to 8:30 pm; $17 members; $20 non-members
Register at least one week ahead with VNF Customer Service: 952.891.1212, Ext. 221.
Discover how to prepare and enjoy the luscious healthy spring flavors of asparagus, basil, cucumbers, peas, rhubarb, spinach and strawberries. This interactive coaching class will explore Valley Natural Food’s produce department and introduce our local farmer partners for May and June. This class will provide helpful handouts and tips on how to save money on eating fresh and local, preparing fresh and local with and without recipes, planning weekly menus and shopping lists plus storing and preserving local fresh food for year-round healthy eating.
Based in Apple Valley, contact FRESH & LOCAL health coach Loris Sofia Gregory at 952.431.5586 or lorissofiagregory.com. Loris would love to hear your ideas and questions about eating FRESH & LOCAL. Request her earth-friendly seasonal recipes and healthy eating tips if you miss her monthly demos and classes at Valley Natural Foods.