When the chill of winter hits, the humble root vegetable will sustain and inspire us. Root vegetables are exactly what their name implies, the edible roots of vegetables. Some common root vegetables are beets, carrots, celery roots, leeks, rutabagas, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and turnips. Root vegetables can be rather intimidating with most of them having thick, strange looking skin and long stems with leaves sprouting out of them. Some are given the cold shoulder because they have the reputation of tasting earthy and even bitter. What many people, who have yet to try these vegetables, don’t know is that they make a delicious and highly flavorful roasted dish on a cold night. When bought in season, they have a depth of flavor that exceeds anything that’s out of season.
One of the most popular of the root vegetables is the humble potato. Potatoes are used in a variety of meals from breakfast to dinner. Whether mashed, baked or roasted, people often consider potatoes a comfort food. It is an important food staple and the number one vegetable crop in the world. Potatoes are available year-round as they are harvested somewhere every month of the year. There are about 100 different varieties of edible potatoes ranging in size, shape, color, starch content and flavor. While many people lump all potatoes into one category, potatoes can actually be quite different in terms of their taste, flavor, texture, and nutrients. Sweet potatoes are no exception to this and are some of the most nutritious vegetables around. The skin and flesh of the sweet potato may be almost white, cream, yellow, orange, pink, or deep purple. Sometimes this root vegetable will be shaped like a potato, being short and blocky with rounded ends, while other times it will be longer with tapered ends. There is often much confusion between sweet potatoes and yams. They are two completely different foods, belonging to different plant families. Sweet potatoes are much more highly available in the U.S. than yams. Over 1 million sweet potatoes are commercially grown in the U.S. each year, while commercial production of yams in the U.S. is rare. So the next time you head out to the grocery store, if the sign says yams in the produce section, more than likely you are just buying a sweet potato.
With beets, it can be a love/hate relationship for most people. Considered a superfood, beets are among the healthiest foods on the planet. Beets have a beautiful reddish-purple hue, but also come in varieties that feature white, golden yellow or even rainbow color roots. No matter what their color, however, beets aren’t as hardy as they look. The smallest bruise or puncture will cause the red-purple pigments to bleed, especially during cooking. It is important to treat beets as a delicate food, even though they might seem hearty and difficult to damage. There are so many different ways to enjoy beets. Roasted, raw, pickled, in salads, smoothies, and this one may surprise you; in chocolate cake. Beets add a silky smooth density to the chocolate cake yielding a very moist cake.
Since carrots are also a favorite root vegetable, they almost feel like an old friend. When looking for just that right amount of crunch for a snack or addition to a salad, carrots are an old standby. Orange carrots are what you typically find in your supermarket, but they are also are found in purple, yellow, white, and red. They match well with just about any vegetable, either cooked or raw, and can be paired with any spice or herb. Parsnips resemble large white carrots and have a cinnamon flavor to them. They are harder than carrots and have a deeper flavor. Parsnips are best used in soups, pureed into a mash, or sliced thinly in a gratin. Parsnips are complimented perfectly by nutmeg, cream, and thyme.
While you certainly do not need
to have a root cellar to store your root vegetables, they are best stored in a
cool, dark, humid room. When storing them in the refrigerator, keep roots in a paper or plastic bag in the crisper.
Storing them uncovered causes them to soften and go bad quickly. When you place them in storage, make sure there aren’t any blemishes present. Any blemishes on the vegetables will cause all
the surrounding vegetables to go bad. One bad apple could spoil the whole bunch. Periodically, go through your
storage and remove any that look
Because root vegetables grow
underground, they absorb plenty of nutrients from the soil. Adding up all of the nutrient qualities, root vegetables are disease-fighting, and immunity and energy-boosting. They can serve as an
inspiration to embrace the outcast roots, as they are not only amazing for your health, they are absolutely delicious. With proper storage and care, your root vegetables will last all winter and provide all the comfort food you need to make it through until spring.