How to Cook Asparagus, Broccoli and Cauliflower

Preparing garden-fresh or store-bought vegetables doesn't need to be a chore. Even if you don't know how to cook asparagus, broccoli or caulilower, with a few shortcuts, fixing these veggies will be an easy kitchen task that does not take a lot of work.

Asparagus Breaks Typical Rules
Asparagus is an edible member of the lily family and comes in several different varieties. Green and purple asparagus are available in most areas; in Europe, white asparagus is popular.

Praised for its medicinal powers and once considered an aphrodisiac, asparagus is considered a cure for rheumatism and a natural remedy for blood clotting. A single serving provides 60% of the USRDA for Folic Acid, and the veggie is a bountiful source of antioxidants.

When shopping for fresh asparagus, look for crisp, firm, green spears. This vegetable breaks traditional food rules. Thick stalks are not an indication of old, tough vegetables. Look for thick spears and you'll be rewarded.

While grilled asparagus is popular, boiling until tender and crisp is a snap. Simply trim ends and lay the spears in a large skillet with two inches of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook uncovered for 5 to 7 minutes.

If you prefer steamed asparagus, an easy preparation method is to place the trimmed stalks in a large coffee pot, allowing the water to heat the asparagus tips.

Broccoli
Broccoli is a relative of cabbage and was developed by horticulturalists from the cabbage flower. An Italian favorite, the vegetable was first introduced to the United States by Thomas Jefferson, who planted it in the garden at Monticello. About 100 years later, broccoli became a favored vegetable in American kitchens.

When selecting a head of broccoli, look for compact, dark-green to purple-green florets on tender, firm stalks. Yellow flowers, wilted leaves or tough steams should be avoided as these are signs of an older, tough vegetable. Broccoli can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator up to four days.

To prepare the broccoli for cooking, trim leaves and ends of stalks. Cut into florets by removing each head. Including a small piece of the stem is okay.

Peel stems with a vegetable peeler and cut into pieces.

Steamed broccoli retains the majority of the vegetable's nutrients. Rinse the florets and pieces. Place steamer in a large sauce pan and add one inch of water. Add the broccoli to the steamer basket, cover and bring to a boil over high heat for approximately 4 to 6 minutes. Watch the water level in the pan and add additional water as needed to prevent scorching.

Cauliflower
Like broccoli, cauliflower is a member of the cabbage family and tends to have the most flavor during cold months. White florets are common, but purple, green and golden cauliflower types are also available.

When selecting cauliflower, look for colorful flowers that are firm. Bruised florets mean the vegetable might be tough.

Cauliflower should be stored in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator. The flavor dissipates as cauliflower is stored, so try to use it within a few days.

Preparing cauliflower involves cleaning, coring and cooking. First, soak the head in cold salt water for half and hour prior to cooking. This process gets rid of any debris that might have settled inside the florets.

Core the cauliflower by slicing through the stem close to the base of the head. Remove any leaves. Separate into florets.

Cauliflower should be cooked quickly. Add to an inch of boiling water and cook for five minutes. The cauliflower should be tender.

To keep the cauliflower a vivid white, add vinegar, lemon juice or milk to the boiling water.

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