Friday, February 25, 2011

Asparagus: Spear Bliss *8+months*

Bunches at my store are usually much larger,
this is obviously just a decorative interpretation!
Asparagus is one of my absolute favorite vegetables, so naturally I wanted to experiment with an baby food recipe.  Not only is it delicious, it’s very versatile.  It can be as homey as an asparagus casserole, or as formal as prosciutto-wrapped asparagus antipasti.  I’m pretty sure my son won’t be eating those foods any time soon, but I do want him to appreciate the taste.  The more variety in a baby’s diet, the easier it will be to introduce new foods in the long run.  Though vegetables are great “first foods,” asparagus is not recommended under the age of 8 months.  If you've had asparagus before and gotten gas, you’ll understand why.  If your baby hasn't had a lot of digestive troubles in the past then asparagus will be easier for him/her to tolerate.  One thing alarming to some parents is that the color of baby’s urine and the smell –ew—can change after eating asparagus.  Some adults experience the same side effects from asparagus when eaten in abundance, but there’s nothing harmful about either the color or smell.

Ew, why?
Let’s get down to why asparagus causes those oh-so-lovely urinary results.  First of all, asparagus is part of the lily family which includes pungent when prepared plants like onions, scallions, and garlic.  Asparagus is different in that its volatile compounds aren’t triggered when cut like its smelly, lily brethren.  Their compounds are activated upon digestion.  Oddly enough genetics has something to do with the phenomenon of “asparagus pee.”  Some people have it; others have no idea what you’re talking about!  Only people with a certain gene –not yet isolated—produce a digestive enzyme capable of breaking down asparagus to all its stinky components.  One of those components is “methyl mercaptan” which is the same substance that gives skunk’s spray its protective, rotten-egg smell.  It is suggested that the methyl mercaptan goes through the kidneys and is later excreted as urinary waste.  So basically if you have this special gene you’ll have skunk pee when you eat a bunch of asparagus.  I find this stuff fascinating so pardon the “grossolgy-esque” pee explanation :)  It’s at least good to know you’ve not done anything to hurt your baby by giving her asparagus; it’s just a natural body reaction in some humans!

Expense & nutrition
If we all knew just how long it takes to successfully grow asparagus spears I don’t think we’d ever question the price of a bunch of asparagus ever again.  I used to groan when I’d get a $4 bunch of wonderfully-tender asparagus, but then I tried to grow my own asparagus plant and I couldn’t hack it. Within the first 6 months I dug it up.  Case closed.  It was later I found that an asparagus plant won’t yield any harvestable crops until at least three years into its growth (“Farm Town” lied to me. It doesn’t really take 12 hours!)  Odds are you’ll find them cheaper than I did because that was an example of the most I’ve ever paid.  The nutritional value is worth it, and whatever you don’t make into baby food you can enjoy yourself :D  Asparagus is an excellent source of B-vitamins, potassium, folic acid and vitamin C.  Even with their sometimes-woody texture, their protein content tops only about 2 grams per 5 stalks.

Instead of sitting and snapping an entire bunch of asparagus, I just “Rachel Ray” cut them.  I first take one stalk and bend it to see where it snaps.  Asparagus will snap naturally where it is the tenderest.  Then I line it up with the rest of the stalks and cut them where that piece snapped.  Do not serve anyone uncut asparagus.  The ends are woodier than the rest of the stalk and they become even rougher when shipping dries them out.

Asparagus Puree
1 bunch green or white asparagus (yields about 1-½ cups puree)

Don't overcook & risk losing this beautiful color!
1.   Put about an inch of water in a high-sided skillet and bring to a simmer.  Place bunch of asparagus in water and cook until tender, about 8 minutes.  They will be less crisp than if you were planning on serving them whole.
2.  Place in food processor and blend until a paste is formed, use cooking water to loosen the puree to your desired consistency.  It is important to process well.  The fatter the spears mean the older the crop; the older the crop means a less tender spear.  Try to choose skinnier spears when possible.

Cooked asparagus is also great finger food for older children!  Just cut into bite-sized pieces, but remember to only feed finger foods when your child has mastered eating non-pureed food.  Enjoy!

-Elias’s mommy

P.s. If you have any left over or if baby doesn't like it, try making cream
of asparagus soup. Yummy!

Sources: How To Cook book by Raymond Sokolov ©1983; “methyl mercaptan”; “Asparagus Gene”; Baby Food stages

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.