Monthly Archives: January 2014

Week 16: Asparagus

My husband and I visited Vienna, Austria a few years ago during the “Spargel Festival.” Spargel is the German word for asparagus. Spargelfests, celebrated from mid-April to mid-June, include peeling contests and even the crowning of an asparagus queen! We stayed at the Hotel im Palais Schwarzenburg surrounded by spectacular flower gardens in the center of Vienna. It is a real palace, a part of which was converted to a five-star hotel to help support its maintenance costs. One afternoon we rented bicycles for a ride along the Danube. Every restaurant in Vienna was offering menu items using tender stalks of white asparagus and we stopped at a riverside cafe for lunch. I enjoyed a creamy asparagus soup while my husband opted for a plate of steamed asparagus.  It was delicious!

We normally associate asparagus with spring as it is one of the earliest vegetable to emerge from the soil. But it is now available in markets year round and makes hearty soups, risottos and strudels to warm chilly winter nights.



Asparagus has been used both as a vegetable and medicine since ancient times.  A recipe for cooking asparagus was found in one of the oldest surviving cookbooks, Apicius’s third-century AD De re Coquinaria,  Book III.  It was also depicted as an offering in a 3000 AD Egyptian frieze. Although asparagus was cultivated in France during the 16th century, it didn’t reach the United States until 1850.

Cultivation and Purchase

Asparagus is a perennial garden plant and member of the lily family.  Its spears from a crown that is planted about a foot deep in sandy soil, although it is usually not harvested until three years after planting.  A well cared for asparagus plant can live for 15 years, producing spears for about 6-7 weeks during the spring and summer. Asparagus spears can grow up to 10 inches in a 24-hour period and must be picked often.

There are three varieties of asparagus: the green asparagus we see most often in the supermarket, white asparagus (soil is heaped on the spears as they emerge which inhibits the development of chlorophyll content, therefore creating its distinctive white coloring), and purple asparagus (only 2-3 inches tall and fruitier in flavor).

When purchasing asparagus, look for straight spears that are not wrinkled or dried out. Although some people think the thinner stalks are more tender, that is not always true. White asparagus is very tender, although it must be peeled with a vegetable peeler, as the outside is fibrous and even woody at times.  Wrap asparagus spears in a damp paper towel or cloth and refrigerate until ready to cook. Do not keep asparagus for more than a day or two after purchase as it will dry out and become tough.

Health Benefits

Asparagus is a nutrient-dense food which in high in Folic Acid and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and thiamin. Asparagus has no fat, contains no cholesterol and is low in sodium. It also contains saponins which are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.



World’s Healthiest Foods (

Golden Beet Salad with Quail Eggs, Goat Cheese and Pistachios

The goat cheese melts slightly with the hot beets and the pistachios add plenty of crunch.



6 c. baby spinach, stems removed

4 golden beets

8 quail eggs, hard boiled and peeled

4 oz. log of goat cheese, crumbled

1/2 c. pistachio nuts, shelled

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar


Divide baby spinach between four salad plates.  Cut cooked quail eggs in half lengthwise and arrange on baby spinach.  Peel golden beets, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and boil over medium heat until they are tender and can be easily pierced with a fork.  Drain. Arrange hot beets on baby spinach.  Garnish with goat cheese and pistachios. Dress with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Serves 4.




Week 15: Root Vegetables


Root vegetables generally refer to any part of a root that is used for food and can include tubers, corms, bulbs and rhizomes – basically any part of the plant that grows below ground.  Root vegetables lend themselves well to cold storage and are generally served during the winter months. Most common root vegetables are carrots, turnips, beets, onions, parsnips, rutabaga, potatoes, and sweet potatoes but also include garlic, celery root, and ginger root,


Historically carrots were grown for their seeds and leaves, although the taproot is the portion that we eat today. Carrots are usually orange, though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. The modern carrot originated in Afghanistan about 1100 years ago.  Carrots contain no starch, are rich in Vitamin A, antioxidants and minerals.



The most common turnip, which is also a taproot,  is mostly white-skinned where it is grown underground and reddish or purplish where it is exposed to sunlight. The interior flesh is entirely white.  Turnip “greens” or leaves are also eaten. At one time, lanterns made from hollowed-out turnips were used for Halloween and in Nordic countries, the turnip was a staple before potatoes were introduced. Turnips are high in Vitamin C.



golden beets 

The beet is another taproot that is eaten, as are the beet greens. Beets are generally red although yellow varieties are also popular.  In Eastern Europe beet soup, known as borscht, is common. Beets are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and aid in detoxification. They help protect against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon cancer.



The onion bulb is cultivated as a vegetable, although it is generally used as a meat or vegetable accompaniment and rarely served alone. They are very pungent when cut and contain compounds that irritate the eyes. Onions come in white, yellow and red varieties.  In the Middle Ages, onions were thought to be such important vegetables that they were given as gifts and used to pay rent. Gladiators were rubbed down with onions to firm their muscles, and at one time onions were considered a remedy for hair loss and snakebites. Onions have potential anti-inflammatory, anti-cholesterol, anticancer and antioxidant properties




The parsnip is a cream-colored taproot that was once used as a sweetener before cane sugar was introduced to Europe. The sap of the parsnip plant is toxic and can cause chemical burns on skin. Parsnips are rich in vitamins and minerals, especially potassium. They have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer and anti-fungal properties.


The rutabaga is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, and is thought to have originated in Scandinavia or Russia.  The roots and top are both edible and are also used as fodder for livestock. In the US, rutabaga is mostly eaten as part of stews and casseroled, served mashed with carrots, or baked in a pastry.  They are often part of a New England boiled dinner. Rutabagas are high in antioxidants, has anti-cancer properties, is high in Vitamin C and forms both collagen and the thyroid hormone thyroxine, which protect cells against damage, encourage wounds to heal, fight infections, and promote healthy bones, teeth, gums, and blood vessels.


The potato is an edible tuber introduced to North America from the Andes in the 1600s. Potatoes are the fourth largest food crop and there are over 5,000 varieties worldwide. They are best known for their carbohydrate or starch content which provides fiber and bulk. Potatoes provide protection against colon cancer, improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, lower plasma cholesterol and triglycerides, increases satiety, and possibly even reduces fat storage

Sweet Potatoes

The sweet potato is not related to the regular potato. It is an edible tuberous root with a smooth skin whose color ranges between yellow, orange, red, brown, purple, and beige. Its flesh ranges from beige through white, red, pink, violet, yellow, orange, and purple. Sweet potato varieties with white or pale yellow flesh are less sweet and moist than those with red, pink or orange flesh,  They originate from South America where remains of the sweet potato have been found that date to 8,000 BC. Sweet potatoes are rich in carbohydrates, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and potassium.




Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos

These burritos are quick and easy to prepare, completely vegetarian and so healthy!


4-6 whole wheat tortillas

2 large sweet potatoes

1 T. olive oil

2 cans black beans, drained

1 clove garlic, minced

3 T. cilantro, diced

1 bunch scallions, sliced

2 avocados, diced

2 c. grated cheddar cheese

Sour Cream


Bake sweet potatoes for 30-40 minutes or until tender in 350oF oven.  Cut in half and squeeze potato pulp from the skin into a small bowl.  Mash with fork.  In a saucepan, heat olive oil and saute garlic.  Add black beans and cilantro and heat through.  To assemble, place a tortilla on a plate, top with 2-3 T. of mashed sweet potato, add 3 T. black beans and sprinkle with cheddar cheese.  Heat in microwave for 40 seconds until cheese melts.  Remove from microwave and top with scallions and avocado.  Garnish with cheddar cheese.  Fold up the bottom and then the sides to form  burritos.  Enjoy!

Week 14: Flatbread

Flatbread generally refers to any type of unleavened bread and examples of different types of flatbread are found throughout the world. It is the most ancient type of bread.

Some of the more familiar flatbreads include:


Focaccia (Italy) – a square-shaped oven-baked Italian bread often seasoned with olive oil and salt, and sometimes herbs, and topped with onion, cheese and meat, or flavored with a number of vegetables. Focaccia dough is similar in style and texture to pizza dough, and is made from high-gluten flour, oil, water, salt and yeast. It is typically rolled out or pressed by hand into a thick layer of dough and then baked on a stone or in an oven. Bakers often puncture the bread with a knife to relieve bubbling on the surface of the bread. Also common is the practice of dotting the bread. This creates multiple wells in the bread by using a finger or the handle of a utensil to poke the unbaked dough.


Injera (Ethiopia) – is a yeast-risen flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture. Traditionally made out of teff flour. Teff is an annual grass, a species of lovegrass, native to the Ethiopian Highlands with a small grain.


Matso (Israel) – an unleavened bread traditionally eaten by Jews during the week-long Passover holiday. There are numerous explanations behind the symbolism of matzo. One is historical: Passover is a commemoration of the exodus from Egypt. The biblical narrative relates that the Israelites left Egypt in such haste they could not wait for their bread dough to rise; the bread, when baked, was matzo. The other reason for eating matzo is symbolic as it symbolizes redemption and freedom, but it is also known as “poor man’s bread”. Thus it serves as a reminder to be humble, and to not forget what life was like in servitude. It is customary to eat matzo made of flour and water;  matzo eggs, wine, or fruit juice in addition to water is not considered acceptable for use. The flour can be made from the five grains mentioned in the Torah: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats.


Naan (India) – a leavened, oven-baked flatbread made of wheat flour. Generally, it resembles pita and is usually leavened with yeast.  Modern recipes sometimes substitute baking powder for the yeast. Milk, which yields a softer dough or yogurt may also be used to impart distinct tastes to the naan. Typically, it is served hot and brushed with ghee (clarified butter) or it can be used to scoop up other foods, or served stuffed with a filling.


Pita (Greece) – a slightly leavened wheat bread, flat, either round or oval, and variable in size. Pita is used to scoop sauces or dips such as hummus, and to wrap kebabs, gyros or falafel like sandwiches. Most pita are baked at high temperatures (450 °F), causing the flattened rounds of dough to puff up dramatically. When removed from the oven, the layers of baked dough remain separated inside the deflated pita, which allows the bread to be opened into pockets, creating a space for use in various dishes.


Tortillas (Mexico, Latin America) – a type of thin flatbread made from finely ground corn or wheat flour. The word tortilla in Spanish means “small torta”, or “small cake” and was originally a bread of maize which predated the arrival of Europeans to the Americas. Wheat flour tortillas were created after wheat was brought to the New World from Spain. Tortillas have been a staple for thousands of years in north, northwest and northeast Mexico as well as in many southwestern US Native American tribes. Tortillas are commonly prepared with meat to make dishes such as tacos, burritos and enchiladas.