Root Veggies 101
These often under-unappreciated vegetables have recently been gaining in popularity for both home cooks and star chefs because of their incredible nutritional value, exceptional taste, low calorie count, and reasonable prices. According to the USDA Nutritional Nutrient Database, these nutritional storehouses are great sources of vitamins (A, B and C) and many essential minerals. Because they are easy to store and widely available in fall and winter when other vegetables are scarce and more expensive, simple-to-prepare and deeply flavorful root vegetables make a perfect choice for a vegetable addition to your menu planning. Since most root vegetables can be prepared in a variety of different ways they are considered some of the world’s most versatile vegetables.
Carrots are available year-round in your grocery stores. Locally grown carrots are freshest and rich in flavor in the summer and early fall. Although typically orange in color, varieties of purple, yellow, red, dark orange and white can add some color to a special occasion meal.
Nutritious and rich in vitamin A, eaten raw or cooked, carrots can be sliced, diced in shredded in myriad different ways.
Try serving as a side dish with roasted chicken, rib roasts, turkey or meatloaf. One of the more common cooked side dishes is with a touch of butter and fresh dill, but they also taste great with thyme, tarragon, or basil (all still with the butter, of course!).
When purchasing carrots, look for firm and smooth surfaces. The carrot tops or greens, if attached, should be moist and bright green. Carrots should be washed or scrubbed just before eating. It is a common practice to peel conventionally grown carrots to remove any pesticide or chemical residue that may be present. Many people enjoy organic carrots without peeling them to retain all the nutritious benefits in the outer layers.
For best storage, you want to minimize any excess moisture that may cause carrots to rot. Some popular methods are to wrap the carrots in a paper towel and then place them in a bag in the refrigerator, or use a perforated plastic bag. They'll last several weeks or even months this way.
Leeks, a lesser-known vegetable with a delicate, mild onion-like taste and crunchy texture, can add a touch of elegance to many recipes
High in vitamin K and A, leeks are available year-round, but at their peak in October through May. The most common edible part of the leek is the white base. The darker green tops are generally not used because of their rough texture.
To prepare leeks, first trim off the root from the leek’s bottom and cut away the green leaves to where the green meets the white. Next, cut crosswise into thin slices (about 1/4” thick) and rinse very well, separating each layer under running water to remove any trapped soil.
For the best flavor and a crunchier texture, leeks can be sautéed or fried. Some recipes will recommend boiling or steaming until tender (which takes about 7-10 minutes). Thinly sliced raw leeks are an excellent addition to salads or used as a garnish to add eye-appeal to your plate. Add sliced or chopped leeks to stews, soups, gratins, casseroles or vegetable pies to add a mild onion flavor. Try combining sautéed or caramelized leeks into mashed potatoes and turnips.
To store your leeks, cut off the green leaves, but leave the roots attached and do not rinse. Keep them wrapped in the refrigerator, and they’ll stay fresh for up to five days.
Parsnips look like large white carrots, and have a sweet, delicate nutty-flavor. Try them roasted, steamed, pureed, combined into mashed potatoes, or chopped and added to soups and stews. Or, try grating small, tender raw parsnips onto salads.
Parsnips are available year-round, but their peak season is September- March. They will need to be peeled for best results. This tasty root vegetable will turn dark when exposed to air, so after peeling, place them in chilled water with some lemon or lime juice or cook immediately.
Fresh herbs that go well with parsnips are chopped basil, dill, parsley, tarragon, or thyme. Sprinkle herbs on generously near the end of preparation and before serving. Unwashed and stored in a bag, parsnips will keep for up to a month in your refrigerator.
With more than 4,500 varieties grown and loved worldwide, the potatoes are one of the most widely known and inexpensive root vegetables. The top categories are russets, reds, whites, yellows (also called Yukons) and purples.
Potatoes are best served cooked. Although they are usually served warm, there are some dishes where potatoes are first cooked then served chilled, like potato salad. For “baked” potatoes in a flash, cook in a microwave loosely covered with plastic wrap on high for 3-4 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork.
Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, other important minerals and also have more potassium per serving than bananas. Leaving the skin-on is the best way to maximize the nutritional value.
If potatoes are stored unwashed at the appropriate temperature (40-50 degrees Fahrenheit) they will keep well for several weeks. Storing them in a paper bag is best – avoid plastic. A cool, dark, dry place is a great place to store your potatoes. Generally, refrigerator temperatures are too cold for proper storage.
Rutabagas look similar to turnips, but their flesh is orange-ish yellow, and when cooked they develop a delicate sweetness that makes an ideal fall vegetable. With high vitamin C and mineral content, they add a nutrition boost to any meal.
They originated as a cross between a wild cabbage and a turnip, and thrive in colder climates. Usually available year-round, the peak season is September through March. Rutabagas store well in the refrigerator, unwashed and in the vegetable drawer. Before consuming rutabagas should be peeled. After washing, cut off the stem and root ends, remove any wax on the outer skin, then peel with a sharp knife or vegetable peeler.
Like most other root vegetables, rutabagas can be roasted, boiled, steamed, stir-fried, mashed, or stewed. Another recommended preparation is to cook them with potatoes and then mash them together, or quarter and roast them together, for a fun flavor variation from standard roasted potatoes. Raw rutabagas can also be sliced, chopped, diced or grated and added to salads, coleslaw or enjoyed as a quick bite-sized snack.
Sweet potatoes are well-known as one of the most nutritious vegetables, and also for their ability to blend well with many spices, toppings, herbs and flavorings to produce colorful and delicious side dishes, entrees, breads and desserts.
Sweet potatoes are usually available year-round and store very well, but fall is considered their peak season.
Boiling, baking, steaming, and sautéing are popular methods of preparation. Cubed or sliced sweet potatoes make a delicious addition to soups and stews. Candied sweet potatoes are a favorite holiday side dish. Sweet potato fries and chips are gaining in popularity, and make for a healthier alternative to traditional french fries. Try roasting with other root vegetables for an attractive fall medley of roasted vegetables.
Sweet potatoes can be substituted in most recipes using regular potatoes and are an excellent source of vitamins A and C. They are more nutritious if cooked in their skins.
Sweet potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place and can last for several months in these conditions. To keep raw cut sweet potatoes from turning greyish or brown, place in ice water immediately after cutting and refrigerate until ready to serve. They will remain crisp for several days.
Turnips are available all year long, and are best enjoyed when they are small and sweet, which is usually in the spring and the fall. Larger turnips may develop tougher skins and a very robust “hot” flavor, but are still good for adding to your favorite stews and soups, or mashing and combining with other root vegetables.
Their flavor mellows nicely when roasted. Mashed and baked preparations make for delicious side dishes. Although many people don’t consider eating turnips raw, but sliced and diced baby turnips can add a nice zippy, crispy crunch to your favorite tossed salads.
High in vitamin C, and low in fat and calories, turnips are perfect to add to your vegetable repertoire. They also store very well, loosely wrapped, and placed in a cool, dark place.
The turnip leaves or “turnip greens” are also frequently enjoyed, and are usually prepared lightly sautéed or steamed.