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By Sari Harrar, BiggestLoserClub.com contributor
In grocery stores, farmers' markets, and roadside stands across the land, you can find yummy, fresh young veggies. Bursting with flavor, these beauties such as asparagus, greens, and peas, are tender and sweet. Many are also weight-loss wonders that fill you up with flavor, nutrition, and fiber for very few calories. Here's more on fitting these nutritious all-stars into your diet plan and onto your plate:
This quintessential veggie is rich in vitamins A and C, as well as potassium and zinc. One cup (6 to 8 spears) provides 67% of the folate you need in a day; this nutrient is important for heart health and preventing birth defects.
Calorie count: One medium-sized asparagus spear (5 to 7 inches long) is a mere 4 calories, making a one-cup serving equal to just 33 calories.
Buying and storage tips: Look for local asparagus at farmers' markets, grocery stores, even roadside stands-it will be younger, fresher, sweeter, and more tender than the imported stuff. When you buy, look for straight spears with crisp, tightly-closed tips. Thickness, surprisingly, is not an indication of tenderness. Thin spears may be tough, and some varieties of thick asparagus are surprisingly sweet and tender.
At home, keep refrigerated-either upright in a container with an inch of water or wrapped in a damp cloth or paper towel. Asparagus will keep for 2 to 3 days in the fridge but for best flavor, use it as soon as possible.
Cooking and eating: Snap off woody ends of stems. (Some chefs recommend saving the woody ends in a zipper-lock bag in the freezer; when you have several cups' worth, use them in vegetable stock.) You can use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer of skin from big asparagus, too.
Eat asparagus raw, lightly steamed (5 to 10 minutes), or simmered gently for 3 to 8 minutes. Sauté one-inch sections in a smidge of olive oil or add to a stir-fry. Or brush with a little olive oil and grill briefly. If you serve asparagus with sauce, or even with olive oil and lemon juice, add the sauce at the very last minute-acids can bleach this veggie's gorgeous, deep-green hue, leaving the spears a sickly yellow.
Quick and easy recipe: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss one pound of washed, trimmed asparagus with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange in a single layer in a baking pan or on a cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the stalks are tender yet still crisp. While they bake, place vinegar in a small pan and boil it until it becomes thick and syrupy. Place asparagus on a pretty serving dish, top with balsamic syrup and a dusting of Parmesan cheese (about 1 tablespoon).
Greens, Greens, Greens!
From baby spinach to kale, chard to collards, mustard greens to chicory, watercress, lettuces and Asian greens like tat soi and bok choy, greens are a great source of vitamins A and C, as well as a range of B vitamins, folate and even some calcium and iron. Greens are also a rich source of antioxidants that help guard cells against damage that contributes to a wide variety of health problems, including heart disease and vision-dimming macular degeneration.
Calorie count: A cup of raw greens has just 7 calories.
Buying and storage tips: Choose leaves that are bright green (not yellowed or brown), with no mushy spots. Store unwashed in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to a week. Hardier cooking greens like collards, kale, and beet tops can be blanched and frozen, then packed into air-tight containers.
Cooking and eating: Love salads? How about a big bowl of mixed spring greens such as baby lettuce, chicory, escarole, dandelion, radicchio, watercress, and/or spinach? Carefully wash salad greens, then dry in a salad spinner or wrap in paper towels and gently squeeze. A big green salad, topped with rinsed, canned beans, tuna, or diced chicken makes a great lunch. Top with a half-tablespoon of olive oil (60 calories) and lemon juice or a dab of your favorite dressing. Oil helps your body absorb nutrients in greens..
Terrific cooking greens include collards, kale, spicy mustard greens, Swiss chard, spinach as well as greens trimmed from the tops of turnips, beets, and even radishes. Wash, trim tough stems, and toss into a fast stir-fry or serve as a side dish. For a quick lunch, add handfuls of washed greens to broth-based soups. Cooked greens are delicious in omelets, quiches, casseroles, and pasta dishes. You can also tuck raw greens into sandwiches.
Quick and easy recipe: Sauté your favorite greens in a smidge of olive oil or low-sodium broth; add diced chicken and chopped garlic. Serve over a half-cup of whole-wheat pasta with a dusting of Parmesan cheese.
Full of protein and fiber, green peas are also a great source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as B vitamins. They provide some calcium, phosphorous, iron potassium, thiamine and riboflavin, too.
Harvested from May through September, fresh peas are deliciously different from canned or frozen varieties: Not tough or mushy, they're tender and sweet.
Calorie count: Peas aren't low-calorie, but they are very filling. A one-cup serving adds up to 117 calories, and packs a healthy 7 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein.
Buying and storing tips: Look for big, bright-green pods. (Yes, you may have to shell your own peas!) Pea pods will keep for up to 5 days if stored in a closed plastic bag in the fridge. You can also blanch peas and freeze, but they won't be as crisp.
Cooking and eating: Wash pods, snap off stems, and shell. Serve raw in salads or on a raw-veggie tray at dinner or for a party. For cooked peas, you can blanch, steam, or sauté.
Quick and easy recipe: Cook 2 cups of peas in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and toss with one-half tablespoon of olive oil or a trans-fat-free spread, chopped mint, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
Snow peas and Sugar-Snap Peas
Crunchy and juicy, these peas are meant to be eaten without being shelled. The pods are as tasty as the peas inside. (In French, they're called mange-tout, which means "eat it all.") While snow peas have flat pods with small peas, sugar snaps are plump. These easy spring peas provide vitamins A and C, plus some iron and potassium.
Calorie count: 10 pods contain just 14 calories.
Buying and storage tips: Purchase smooth, thin, crisp snow peas with flat, undeveloped peas inside. They should be firm and shiny. Avoid snow peas with tiny circles of rot, a sign that they are deteriorating. Choose plump sugar snaps that have no breaks in the skins or soft, moldy tips. Avoid wilted peas. You can store both types for up to two weeks in the fridge.
Cooking and eating: Fresh, tender pea pods can be washed and served as-is for a crunchy snack, accompaniment to lunch, or on a raw veggie tray. If you prefer, remove the stem and string first: use your thumb or a small knife to slice partway through the stem end of each pod, then pull the stem and attached strings off. To cook snow and sugar-snap peas, remove the stem and string, then lightly sauté or steam.
Quick and easy recipe: Sauté sugar snap or snow peas with asparagus for a spring veggie medley. Flavor with a dash of soy sauce.
Freshly dug from the earth, new potatoes can be as tiny as a child's marbles or as big as the digger's fist. Sweeter than mature spuds, new potatoes contain sugars that haven't yet turned to starch. And their skins are paper-thin. Prized for their high moisture content and creamy texture, new potatoes are also easy to cook (just scrub and heat, no need to peel!)
Calorie count: One small potato (about 1 ¾ inches by 2 ¼ inches) packs 120 calories. Buying and storage tips: Sometimes, small mature potatoes are sold as new potatoes. You can tell the difference by checking the skins: A true new tater has wispy, parchment-like skin that you could peel with fingernails alone. Store in a cool, dark spot and use within a few days-new potatoes are perishable.
Cooking and eating: Scrub, then cook them whole. You can steam, boil, or grill new potatoes. New potatoes don't bake, mash, or fry as well as mature spuds due to their relatively low starch content.
Quick and easy recipe: Cook new potatoes in simmering water for about 10 minutes. Drain, then drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and an herb of your choice: Dill or fresh basil is delicious. Or, steam and chill new potatoes, then serve with a vinegar-based dressing. In some studies, this has slowed the rise in blood sugar after eating this carb-rich food.
Sari Harrar is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania and a frequent contributor to BiggestLoserClub.com.