Subterranean beauties

I distinctly remember the moment when I decided to take a closer look at my roots. My root vegetables, that is!

Turnips

I distinctly remember the moment when I decided to take a closer look at my roots. My root vegetables, that is!

It was during a work potluck, when a colleague brought in some mystery vegetable dish. I attentively took some and then after the first bite I went for seconds and shamelessly went for thirds.

This mystery vegetable turned out to be the humble parsnip.

Parsnips belong to a large family of vegetables called the roots. Though the vegetables belonging to this group all have unique and distinctive taste, they share one common characteristics; they all are the underground part of the plant that support the stem and leaves up above.

Most people are familiar with common root vegetables like potatoes, onions, garlic and carrots but aren’t as acquainted with the not so glamorous ones, namely turnips, rutabagas, beets and parsnips.

Ancient cultures originally used these vegetables for medicinal purposes but through the ages, nobility came to view this group of vegetables as “peasant food.”

They were categorized as cheap, winter fillers that were added to soups and stews. Their “lowly status” stemmed from their growth location beneath the earth’s surface, and also from their symbolic societal class designation.

The only reason that roots actually prevailed during early time was because of their ability to keep for long periods and their knack to stand up to the predominant cooking method of the day: boiling. A cooking pot hanging by a chain over an open fire served as a stove. Stews and soups filled with turnips, rutabagas and parsnips filled every pot.

Now a days, more of the roots have enjoyed a renaissance of sorts. They are no longer considered “peasant food.”

Their vibrant colours mingled with their versatility and their unique flavours are sought out daily by gourmet chefs and home cooks alike.

Though root vegetables are under-celebrated, their high nutritional quality, however, gives us much to cheer about. They are high in fibre and in vitamins such as potassium and beta-carotene. They also gather the benefits of many minerals during their time in deep soil.

As tasty as they are, roots are also low in both calories and fat.

Here are just a few of my favourite ways that I dig my roots:

• Go back to tradition and add roots to soups and stews. When cut into bite-size pieces most root vegetables take about 20 minutes to become tender when boiled, so add them towards the end of cooking time to avoid mushy, overcooked vegetables. Another option is to shred them on a large-holed grater for a finer-textured soup or to have them blend into a stew. Or for a smoother creamy soup, chop preferred vegetables and cook in vegetable broth. Once vegetables are soft, make a puree in a blender. Place soup back into pot and add preferred seasoning.

• Mashed potatoes are well known, as are mashed sweet potatoes (often sweetened with brown sugar). Other root vegetables like parsnips, turnips, and rutabaga are also delicious mashed – either on their own or mixed in with the more traditional potato.

• Roasting brings out the essential sweetness in root vegetables and creates a crispy brown exterior that’s always appealing to the eyes and palette. Simply coat vegetables with olive oil, sprinkle with preferred seasoning or fresh herbs and bake at 375C until browned and cooked.

• Root vegetable chips are crisp, colorful, and fun homemade snacks. Take thinly sliced vegetables and fry in oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper while still warm, but allow to cool (and crisp) completely before serving.

Whatever root vegetables that you choose to steam, boil, bake, or fry, they are sure to add colour, flavour, and a ton of nutritional vitamins and minerals to any meal. Rediscover your roots and savour the old-fashioned goodness of these vegetables!

They are a family of vegetables worth becoming well acquainted with when it comes to kicking up our culinary creativity!

Harvest Root Vegetable Soup

1 cup coarsely chopped onion

1 cup peeled coarsely chopped granny smith apples

1 cup peeled coarsely chopped parsnips

1 cup peeled, chopped butternut squash (seeds discarded)

1 cup peeled, chopped carrots

1 cup peeled, chopped sweet potato

5 cups of chicken stock

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon of chilli (optional)

salt and pepper

1/8 cup pure maple syrup

Bring broth to boil. Add all vegetables until vegetables are tender. Cool slightly. Puree with a food processor or blender. Heat soup again and add syrup, and seasoning.

Orange (Honey)Glazed Parsnips

3 lbs. Parsnips

½ cup orange marmalade

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 cup butter

1 large navel orange and toasted almond to garnish

Wash and peel parsnips and cut into 3-inch pieces. Cook in boiling water until tender.

Melt butter in skillet and stir in marmalade, ginger and 1/4 cup of water (optional add 1/4 cup of honey). Boil for 5 minutes.

Add parsnips and spoon liquids over to glaze well.

Place in serving dish, spooning glaze over parsnips and garnish with orange slices and toasted slivered almonds.

This hearty root soup is a great way to get a big dose of vegetables and it is soothing and satisfying.

Colourful and tasty root vegetables – carrots, turnips, parsnips, and sweat potatoes – slow-roasted in butter and olive oil, make a beautiful and hearty accompaniment to almost any winter dish.

How do you make the humble parsnips so scrumptious that everyone is going for seconds? By adding a little butter, a bit of orange marmalade and a smidge of salt and ginger. This orange glazed parsnips is sweet and savory at the same time.

Root vegetable chips are crisp, colorful, and fun homemade snacks

Turnips, parsnips, beets and sweet potatoes are vegetables that were often referred to as lowly vegetables. But these root vegetables have recently enjoyed a renaissance of sorts.

These under-appreciated, subterranean beauties have become a nutritious additions to a variety of soups, stews and winter side dishes.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com

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