Local Foods: Wonderful in White – Český chřest bílý

I love the chance to try new things, don’t you?  This is my first Spring in Brno and the white asparagus – chřest bilý – caught my eye.  As a child in the US I have fond memories of harvesting and eating asparagus from my grandfather’s garden.  The delicate spears were so tender and flavorful that we ate many of them in the field right after they were cut.  But like many vegetables that ripen in the sun, they were green.  Over the years I continued to enjoy green and more recently purple asparagus, but white wasn’t common in the local markets near my home in North Carolina, so I had to try it when I saw it in Brno.

I recently learned that many places in Europe (including the Czech Republic) celebrate this seasonal delicacy known as “white gold.”  It is available from local sources between April to June, and near Brno chřest bilý is grown in Ivančice, where it is celebrated at an annual festival.  The stalks are white because they are grown without sunlight, usually underground or undercover.   I find that the flavor is milder than green asparagus, and that the white fibrous stalks need to be peeled before cooking.  Chřest bilý is versatile and recipes abound from soup to the main course.  I often prefer simple methods and today I roasted some in the oven and enjoyed it with a splash of olive oil and shaved parmesan cheese.  You can find it in local markets, stores or restaurants.

Nutritionally, both white and green asparagus are comparable and provide healthy amounts of vitamin K, folate, and fiber.  But they differ in the type and amount of antioxidants, with green providing more than white.  It is best eaten soon after harvest and should be stored in the fridge.  I usually stand the stalks upright in some water until I am ready to use it.

The season is short so if your interest is piqued I suggest you consider enjoying some chřest bilý with your meals this week!

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Victoria Hawk is an American Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with more than 15 years of clinical and research experience.  She is living in Brno with her husband Jon, who is working here on an expat assignment. Victoria enjoys learning about local foods and plans to share her experience through this blog series.

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