Root Vegetable Renaissance

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Have you been ignoring your roots? Now’s the time to repair your relationship with these often-ignored vegetables. At the turn of the century, Americans ate roots in abundance, but with the advent of fast food, these sustaining staples fell out of favor. Nowadays, many young people are unable to name more than one or two root vegetables (see “Recognize that Root?” on Page 48). Who knows what wisdom is waning as a result?

Rooting for Roots

What’s so great about roots? Consider the lowly root: It provides stability and a tether to our good Earth. From a strictly symbolic standpoint, without roots, we tip over, feel awry, uprooted and ungrounded. We become lost in upward and outward energy. If we want our feet firmly planted, we must reconnect with the primal energy of Mother Earth. What better time to do this reconnecting than autumn, when leaves fall and we herald the harvest?

A plant’s roots draw water and minerals from the soil to nourish and sustain its leaves. They regulate water and mineral movement and keep crucial fluids flowing. Roots store energy collected by the leaves, slowly releasing it to fuel growth, activity and reproduction for plants. During a long, cold winter, the underground portion of a plant stores vital energy after the leaves die back, allowing the plant to regenerate in the spring.

Might some of these same benefits be bestowed upon those who feast on these fruits? I like to think of roots as fertilizer for thought, nourishment for the next project, rations for regeneration and batteries for bolstering our bodies and minds inside and out. And even if this metaphor isn’t strictly true, the sheer scrumptiousness and nutritional value of roots make them worth our time.

What’s in a Root?

From a nuts-and-bolts standpoint, roots provide carbohydrates, minerals (such as potassium and phosphorus), small amounts of iron, vitamin C, fiber, plant chemicals and a cornucopia of carotenoids beyond beta-carotene. One cup of turnip or rutabaga supplies as much vitamin C as one grapefruit or half an orange.

Volume for volume and calorie for calorie, roots supply more nutrients and fewer calories than grains. Their soluble fiber can make your belly feel more satisfied, aid weight loss and keep you regular. Using root vegetables as a replacement for grain adds vibrant colors, textures and flavors to meals. One or two daily doses of roots may lessen your desire for sweets, provided you pair them with ample protein and friendly fats and oils on your plate.

The harvest time for these vegetables may vary, depending on where you live. However, most are amenable to year-round use, and many may be grown in the dead of winter with the use of cold frames or a greenhouse. Be sure to try the recipes that follow — a few delicious ways to celebrate the season and reconnect with your roots.

Rachel Albert-Matesz is a freelance food and health writer, cooking coach, instructor and personal chef based in Phoenix. She is the co-author of The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook (Available from our Bookshelf, Page 58).

Scrumptious Root Recipes

Makes 6 servings

Coconut milk makes a delicious dairy-free substitute for cream in this soothing soup. (It contains less than half the fat and calories, too!) Look for preservative-free, unsweetened coconut milk, such as Thai Kitchen or Edward and Sons in health-food stores or the ethnic aisle of supermarkets.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 to 1 teaspoon finely ground, unrefined sea salt
1 tablespoon peeled, minced gingerroot
11/2 pounds carrots, cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds (about 4 packed cups)
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup apple juice plus 1/8 teaspoon stevia extract powder
1/2 teaspoon dried ground ginger
1/2 cup coconut milk (premium, not lite), thoroughly blended
1/2 cup water or stock, as needed to blend
Freshly grated nutmeg, minced scallions, chives, parsley, for garnish

Warm oil in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onions. Stir and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add salt and fresh ginger and stir for 1 minute. Add carrots, stock, apple juice plus stevia and dried ginger. Bring to low boil, reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender, about 30 minutes.

In a blender or food processor, puree soup and coconut milk a few cups at a time. (Hold down the top with a dishtowel and start on low to prevent splattering.) Add an additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup water or stock, as needed to yield 6 cups.

Return soup to saucepan and warm briefly, without boiling. Ladle into bowls, garnish and serve. Refrigerate leftovers and use within four days.

Makes 8 to 9 cups

People who don’t ordinarily enjoy beets have changed their minds and asked for seconds and the recipe after sampling this salad! The secret: Use fresh beets — don’t even think of using canned. Forget the hype about beets being high on the glycemic index. They contain an abundance of vitamins and antioxidants. Served with a complete protein, cooked leafy greens or salad, and nuts, seeds or oil, the meal will have a moderate to low glycemic rating. Note: Halve this recipe when cooking for 2 or 3 people.


3 pounds small to medium beets with tails and stubs but not leaves, washed well
2 bay leaves
Filtered water to completely cover beets
3 cups water to cook onions, optional
2 medium sweet onions, cut into thin half-moons


1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
11/2 teaspoons dry mustard
11/2 teaspoons ground cumin
4-inch piece fresh horseradish root, peeled and finely grated, optional
1/2 cup thoroughly washed, dried and chopped fresh parsley leaves, optional
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil or 1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped, optional

Add beets and bay leaves to a large pot and cover with water. Cover pot, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender and a skewer inserts easily, 30 to 60 minutes, depending on size. Slice onions. If you prefer, cook onions for 1 minute in 3 cups boiling water and drain. Set onions aside.

Mix vinaigrette ingredients in 3-quart bowl. Toss with onions and set aside. Plunge beets in ice water. Drain, remove tops and tails; slip off skins with knife. Cut small beets into thin rounds; cut large beets into half- or quarter-moons. Toss with onions. Add horseradish and/or parsley if desired. Marinate at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.

To serve, toss salad with olive oil or sprinkle with walnuts, if desired. Use within one week or freeze for up to three months.

Makes 4 servings

Golf ball-sized young turnips are amazingly tender and tasty. They lack the bitterness of their overgrown brethren and cook in a fraction of the time. Peeled, thinly sliced and steamed, they make a delicious alternative to potatoes when served with eggs and greens for breakfast, or with an entree and a salad for lunch or dinner. If the tops look lively, wash them well, remove the stems, thinly slice the leaves and steam them with the roots.

2 to 4 cups filtered water
1 large bunch baby turnips, about 8 golf ball-sized roots with or without tops
Butter, coconut oil or flax oil, optional

Add 1 inch of water to a 3-quart pot fitted with a folding metal steamer. Water should rise to just below the bottom of the steamer. Cover and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Peel turnips and cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds and arrange on steamer tray. If using turnip tops, remove them from the roots, strip away the stems and wash the leaves in several changes of water. Thinly slice greens and arrange on top of the roots. Cover and cook over rapidly boiling water for 4 to 8 minutes, until roots are fork tender. Remove from heat and serve, dabbed with butter or drizzled with oil if desired. Refrigerate leftovers, reheat as desired, and use w­ithin two days.

Makes 8 servings

Parsnips make a great alternative to french fries. Starting with a good parsnip is essential. Search for parsnips after a frost, when their natural sugars develop. Select the smallest roots you can find — large, overgrown roots are tough, dry and bitter.

2 pounds small parsnips, scrubbed, rinsed, peeled and trimmed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons apple or pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon finely ground, unrefined sea salt or 1 tablespoon soy sauce, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 14 x 19 x 2-inch baking pan with unbleached parchment paper for ease of cleanup. Cut parsnips into 3-inch-long by 1/2-inch-wide sticks. Toss with oil, spice and salt in a large bowl.

Scatter parsnips in prepared pan. Roast, uncovered, turning parsnips after 15 minutes. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes until tender and lightly golden. Serve warm. Cover and refrigerate leftovers, and use within three days.

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