Grab Dinner by the Roots
Even though we’re entering the deepest months of winter, it doesn’t mean fresh veggies have to be a distant memory of warmer, sunny days. Root vegetables shine during the winter months. It’s when these scratch-below-the-surface vegetables are at their peak.
Root vegetables are defined, quite simply, as vegetables that grow on the underground portion of a plant. Thus, they’re edible roots. They range from the common, like carrots, to the mundane, such as the often-overlooked rutabaga.
Root veggies are both tastier, cheaper and fresher when in season, so now is the time to add them to your dinner menu. Here are a few favorites that shine during the colder winter months.
Beets have a mild, earthy flavor and easily pick up the flavors of whatever they’re cooked with. They’re one of the hottest root vegetables at fall farmers markets and grown in gardens. And they come in an incredible number of colors, including red, pink, yellow and yes, even in wild stripes. They’re best when cooked fresh, right from the garden.
- Peak season: Beets will come into season in late summer but can be harvested very late, well into autumn and even winter. Large ones can be woody, so look for ones 2 inches in diameter, which taste the best.
- Prep: Scrub beets before cooking, but try not breaking or cutting the skin. Simply slice the beets into the desired size and shape with a chef’s or Santoku knife, which stand up well to these stout bulbs. Cut a thin slice off one side before slicing. This holds it nicely in place while cutting. Leave the skin on to prevent the color from excessive bleeding. The peels can be removed immediately after cooking.
- Cooking: Grate beets raw into salad, or roast in the oven and top with your favorite dressing. They’re delish with balsamic vinegar. They’re also perfect for roasting, baking or boiled until tender.
- Storage: Simply toss beets into the crisper after trimming the leaves (leave 1-2 inches of stem). No need to wash until ready to use. Do not trim the roots…otherwise they may bleed profusely in your crisper during storage.
- Great pairings: Pair beets with flavorful foods, like vinegar or goat cheese.
- Nutrition profile: Vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber.
What’s up, doc? Carrots, that’s what, even though these lanky roots grow downward and stay buried until unearthed. Carrots, most commonly seen in their trademark orange color, are extremely versatile and yes, truly do sharpen your eyesight. And, you may think you’re seeing things, but they actually do come in other colors like purple, yellow and white.
- Peak season: Carrots are an extremely hardy root vegetable, making them available whenever you want!
- Prep: Grab a chef’s or Santoku knife and slice the tops off carrots. Then you have a choice. Slice them lengthwise into long strips, known as julienne, or widthwise into coin-size bites. You can peel if desired, but it’s not necessary. Just rinse clean and enjoy.
- Cooking: Eat carrots raw, steam them, boil them, throw into a soup or roast them.
- Storage: Carrots call the crisper of your fridge home. If you grow your own or buy at the farmers market, cut the green tops away and rinse before storing in plastic. A good rule is to keep them in a drawer separate from fruits giving off ethylene gases, which will cause them to spoil quickly.
- Great pairings: Carrot preparation can bring out either the sweet or the savory side of the vegetable. A spice like cumin pairs well with carrots, and it provides sweet depth to vegetable medleys. If you want to quickly dress them up, just mix with a little brown sugar and butter.
- Nutrition profile: Vitamins A, C and K. Potassium, fiber, and alpha- and beta-carotene antioxidants.
Parsnips may look like carrots cloaked in white and are closely related. But they have other family relation you may recognize: Parsley root and celery. They’re sweeter than carrots and are the oh-so-perfect addition to beef roasts as well as soups, stews and other slow-cooker faves.
- Peak season: Parsnips shine when most other vegetables take a break. January through March is the ideal time to enjoy these root veggies, as the cold winter temps bring out the sweetness.
- Prep:Choose thinner parsnips, because thicker ones can have a woody middle that needs to be cut out. Choose a chef’s, Santoku or utility knife to do the job right. Then simply prepare like carrots.
- Cooking: Parsnips are normally eaten cooked, though they can be enjoyed raw. They may be boiled, steamed, baked or roasted. Take your choice. They’re delish any way you cook them. If steaming, skip the peeling as the skins slip off easily.
- Storage: Here’s the trick to keeping parsnips for a good 2 weeks. Wrap them in damp paper towel and store in a plastic bag in the fridge.
- Great pairings: Parsnips shine in soups, stews and roasts.
- Nutrition profile: Vitamins C and K, folate, potassium and fiber.
- Peak season: Rutabagas are harvested in late summer and early fall, when their flavor is at their peak. But, they store for a long, long time, so you can enjoy them well into winter.
- Prep: Cut off the stem and root with a chef’s or Santoku knife, and then use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove the skin. Again, cutting a thin, flat slice off one side helps hold it in place while slicing.
- Cooking: Cubed rutabagas can be added to stews and soups. They can also be boiled, roasted, steamed, stir-fried or baked, and eaten like mashed potatoes.
- Storage: The rutabaga is a fantastic vegetable for storing in the refrigerator, where it will keep up to 4 months. Best time to stock up is in autumn, when you’ll find them at farmers markets.
- Great pairings: Pair rutabagas with other winter veggies, like onions, garlic and shallots; along with complementary spices and herbs, like paprika and parsley. They also cook nicely with potatoes and can be mashed together.
- Nutrition profile: Vitamin C, potassium and fiber.
Rutabagas, often mistaken for turnips, are overlooked in the kitchen but add a nice, fresh new flavor to your meals. They thrive in colder temps, as they originated in Scandinavia. Rutabaga is a great choice for something new on the dinner table, with a delicate, sweet flavor that is fresh like cabbage or turnip. Another plus, it’s as easy to prepare as it is nutritious.
TELL US YOUR FAVES: What root veggies do you enjoy the best? Tell us how you prepare them.