Asparagus is the quintessential springtime veggie. Historically used as a medicinal plant, asparagus contains a compound called asparagine that is nature's most powerful kidney diuretic. The chlorophyll in asparagus (what gives all green plants their color) acts as a blood builder and purifier. Asparagus is extremely high in glutathione, an antioxidant with potent anti-carcinogenic properties. It is also loaded with vitamins A and C, two other powerful cancer fighters, along with selenium, a super antioxidant. Additionally asparagus are full of B vitamins, including folic acid, and is a great source of dietary fiber.

There are lots of great reasons to add asparagus to your spring menu. Aside from all the health benefits, it's a versatile veggie and just plain delicious. Roasting and steaming are pretty standard cooking methods. But if you want some more creative ways to welcome asparagus into your culinary repertoire, then give these four simple recipes a try. Push aside the mushy, over-cooked asparagus of your childhood, and make way for the fresh, new asparagus in town.

Sesame Ginger Asparagus -- 1 bunch of asparagus, 1 tbsp canola oil, 1 tsp toasted sesame oil, 1-2 tsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp grated ginger, 1 tsp sesame seeds. Trim and wash the asparagus then cut into 2" pieces. In a sauté pan, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus pieces and sauté for about 5 minutes, until they are bright green and al dente. Add the sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger and sesame seeds, mixing well to coat all the asparagus well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you don't like ginger, feel free to leave it out.

Balsamic Parmesan Asparagus -- 1 bunch of asparagus, 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar, handful of thinly sliced basil leaves, ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Heat your oven to 375˚. Combine the Parmesan cheese with ¼ tsp black pepper and sliced basil leaves. Set aside. Trim and wash the asparagus. Toss with the olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Lay them out on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 10 minutes, until they are bright green. Remove the asparagus from the oven, sprinkle the basil-cheese mixture evenly over the asparagus and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar. Return to the oven for another 5-7 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and is beginning to brown.

Quick "Pickled" Asparagus -- 1 bunch of asparagus, zest of 1 lemon, 1 minced garlic clove, 3 tbsp chopped dill, 1 tbsp chopped tarragon, ½ cup white balsamic or champagne vinegar, ½ tsp each of salt, pepper and sugar. Trim and wash the asparagus and place in a shallow bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients and pour over the asparagus. Mix well to combine, cover and let marinade for at least 30 minutes before serving. Turn the asparagus a couple times if you can.

Grilled Asparagus with Sweet `n' Spicy Chili Lime Dip: 1 bunch of asparagus, 1 tbsp olive oil, ½ cup plain non-fat greek yogurt, 4 tbsp lime juice, 2 tbsp Sriracha chili sauce, 2 tbsp agave nectar, salt and pepper. Preheat your grill to medium-high. Trim and wash the asparagus. Toss with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Grill for 5-7 minutes, turning once or twice, until al dente. Remove and set aside. To make the dip, mix together the yogurt, lime juice, chili sauce and agave nectar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Jennifer Spaide received her master's degree in human nutrition from Columbia University. She is a mom, personal chef and freelance writer residing in New Canaan. As founder of GreenChic, Jennifer is dedicated to inspiring individuals to get fresh in the kitchen and eat their way to a healthy life. Contact Jennifer at 203-247-2002 or jennifer@thegreenchiclife.com. Visit www.the

greenchiclife.com to learn more.