How to Choose a Root Vegetable
Disclaimer: This is not medical or personalized nutrition advice, but general education. Discuss your own nutrition needs with your healthcare provider or qualified nutritionist.
It finally feels like Fall!
What better way to celebrate than talk about seasonal veggies?
It is a huge understatement to say that I love fall food. I love everything about fall food: the spices, warm temperatures, rich textures, layers of flavor, and even the fact that things take longer to make. When you slow down to focus on a recipe (new or old), you tend to infuse it with more love and care. Seriously, food tastes better when you do that. Here’s a few of my favorite fall vegetables and some recipe ideas to make them come alive for you!
First, an explanation of what root vegetables actually are:
The veggies we know and love as root vegetables are divided into two categories: taproots and tubers. Taproots are singular lengthy roots that pull nutrients from the soil into the leafy part of the plant. Tubers are bulbous stems that do the same thing. Taproots and tubers can be stored out of refrigeration in a cool, dry location. Cellars are perfect for this purpose, but if you live in a more typical modern house like me, a basket or bin out of the way on the counter works just fine.
One of the most popular tubers, basic sweet potatoes are a woody, burnt orange color on the outside and vibrantly orange on the inside. There are other varieties that vary in color. Purple sweet potatoes are dry and dense, have a rich flavor, and take a little longer to cook than classic sweet potatoes. Japanese sweet potatoes are darker-skinned and have a white or yellow flesh, with a slightly sweeter flavor. All of these varieties are rich in beta-carotene, potassium, B vitamins, and vitamin C. These are delicious in almost anything. I love dicing them into soup, stir-fry, and chili, and they are delicious in thick slices baked into fries. Another popular way to eat them is mashed, as in sweet potato casserole! I absolutely love this recipe which is topped with oats and pecans. Check out my recipe (actually, my husband invented it but it’s awesome) for mashed sweet potatoes with rosemary and feta or goat cheese on Facebook.
A type of cruciferous vegetable, turnips are white on the outside and pinkish-purpleish in the middle. They taste kinda like radish and are sometimes spicy. You can peel them for easier cooking, and then bake and puree them with spices for a mashed potato texture. Turnips have phytonutrients that reduce cancer risk, and are high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Choose small or medium turnips that are smooth, firm, and heavy in the spring. My favorite way to eat these is by making a “loaded baked potato” flavor profile with butter, chives bacon, and sour cream. This is a simple roasted turnip recipe that should please event the turnip-haters!
Rich in carotenoids (which have that name because…carrots), these taproots also have a wide variety of phytonutrients (lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin). and a bunch of minerals. Roasted, raw, boiled, or pureed, these veggies are versatile and delicious. Choose carrots with the tops still attached or recently chopped off. The roots should be firm and definitely not soggy. If you buy pre-cut “baby” carrots, make sure that they aren’t slimy! Bacteria can grow on washed carrots, and if they’ve been on the shelf a few days they can pose a health hazard. I love eating carrots mixed with other things (sweet potato + carrot + ginger soup anyone?), but I’ve definitely just washed a large root before and started chowing down. In the summer these are especially refreshing as a dip vehicle (guac, hummus, tatziki, black bean dip, etc.) and in the winter they are the perfect base (along with onions) for a pot roast.
Commonly used in cold northern climates, beets can be grown all year. However, their peak season actually ends in October. These deep red tubers are rich in minerals and promote oxygenation of your blood. This makes them awesome for energy if you’re feeling drained or want a boost in athletic endurance. The nitrates in beets are excellent for your cardiovascular system. Choose small or medium beets that are firm and smooth, with few hairs. Delicious in salads with brighter flavors like arugula and goat cheese and an earthy addition to a pan of mixed roasted vegetables, beets can easily be added into your veggie rotation with a little creativity and curiosity!
A tuber that tastes like an apple, jicama is crunchy and slightly sweet. It’s delicious raw in salads and salsas. You can buy wraps made entirely of sliced jicama, which makes a delicious fish taco or veggie wrap. Jicama has lots of prebiotic fibers if you eat it raw, so start out with small portions and see how your digestion handles it. You can also reduce the prebiotic content by cooking jicama. This link contains all the jicama salad recipes you could ever want, and this recipe for jicama fries is drool-worthy (replace the olive oil with avocado or coconut).
Rutabaga is a member of the cabbage family, with purple or yellow skin and yellow flesh on the inside. It tastes like a mix between cooked cabbage and a white potato. Rutabaga is easiest to cook if you peel it first, then cube or slice and roast or caramelize it. Rutabagas are rich in vitamin C, zinc, and fiber. This is technically a winter vegetable and its season peaks January through March. Break up your routine with this delicious Finnish recipe for rutabaga soup, or get cozy with this beef, potato, and rutabaga pie.
A tuber that is often said to be less healthy because it is so starchy, potatoes actually are one of the highest sources of potassium and is rich in vitamin C, B6, and folate. Look for firm, dry potatoes and know that the larger the potato, the longer it takes to cook. It’s easy to make homemade baked fries with paprika and salt, or bake a whole one and add homemade chili on top. My favorite and most nostalgic way to eat white potatoes is to make a rich mash with butter, sour cream, and milk. So delicious!
A taproot that looks like a white carrot. Parsnips can be peeled and cooked like carrots as well, and are delicious mashed with spices. These are rich in folate, vitamin K, potassium, and soluble fiber. Choose roots that are firm and smooth, and avoid fibrous ones. These peak from December through April. Try this parsnip soup if you want to shake things up in the kitchen, or perhaps a simpler roasted recipe if you’re feeling less adventurous.
This tuber is not at all like an artichoke, and is actually related to sunflowers! It looks kinda like ginger or a lumpy old potato, and is white on the inside. Loads of prebiotic fibers here, so try them raw in small portions if you want to improve your gut microbiota. They are also rich in iron and potassium. Sunchokes make excellent baked veggie fries or chips and you can grate them into salads or mash them with potatoes.
Celery root is a large tuber that is popular in northern European cooking. You may also find it by the name “celeriac.” This is totally different than the celery with which you are already familiar. Peel the outer skin and slice or cube the inside white root, and roast or boil for a mild flavor that tastes kinda like green celery. This celery root soup is mild and warming. Choose small or medium roots that are firm and smell pungent. These guys just started their peak season, which goes until April.
The bright colors of these potato varieties offer more phytonutrients than regular white potatoes, which can support healthy blood pressure and blood clotting. They have a bit of vitamin C and potassium, but not as much as white potatoes. Red potatoes make a delicious breakfast hash with rosemary and eggs, and purple potatoes make a great side to steak or salmon. This recipe with shallots and chives is delicious!
Radishes are small, firm, round tubers with leafy stems, and come in bundles of red, white, or black. Radishes contain a bunch of vitamin C and support your liver’s ability to filter your blood. This veggie is peppery and crisp, which makes for a great salad or stir-fry addition. The Asian variety is called daikon and looks more like a white carrot, and is delicious when thin-sliced into stir-fry or soup. Here’s a miso soup recipe if you’re feeling adventurous! You can also eat the leaves - check out this radish leaf pesto. Radishes are available year-round.
General Guidelines for Cooking
Check your vegetable for excessive dryness (it will feel hollow), mold, sprouts, or bruises. Sprouts and bruises can be cut out, but you should discard the vegetable if it exhibits excessive dryness or mold.
When cooking a mixture of vegetables, add them to heat in the order of density: root veggies first, then fibrous and cruciferous veggies, then leafy greens. This will ensure even cooking and improve the flavor.
Root veggies are done cooking when you can easily pierce them with a fork.
If you add acid (such as lemon juice, white wine, or apple cider vinegar) to red and white veggies during the cooking process, they will retain their bright color.
Preheat the oven to 375-400 degrees F. Toss same-size pieces in a large bowl with coconut oil, ghee, butter, or olive oil, 1-2 Tbsp oil for every pound of vegetables. Add a pinch of salt and 1 Tbsp fresh or dried herbs for each pound. Toss to coat the veggies evenly, then place in a thin layer on a baking pan linked with parchment or foil. You can also bake cleaned and dried whole roots in the oven with no added seasoning. Bake for 45-70 minutes, depending on size and temperature.
Preheat a large pan with 1-2 Tbsp heat-tolerant oil (avocado or coconut work best). Add veggies in order of density and cook until fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Add seasonings during the cooking process, or season at the end just before serving.
Bring a large pot half-full of water to a boil. Add cut veggies all at once, return to a boil, and lower the heat to simmer. Place a lid on the pot to speed the cooking process. Cook until fork-tender, about 15-25 minutes depending on total volume.
That should be enough sage advice to make some tasty root vegetables this fall. Share your pictures with me on Facebook or Instagram!