Authored by Rachel Bowers, UMN Public Health and Nutrition
The words parsnip, turnip or rutabaga brings back memories of admonishments to “eat your vegetables!” These roots don’t promote themselves very well with appearances either- they are often gnarled and nubby. However, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and other root vegetables can be deliciously sweet.
Root vegetable is a blanket term that refers to vegetables that are pulled from the ground. Parsnips resemble large white carrots. A turnip is also white, but may be red or purple on top, where it was exposed to sunlight. A rutabaga, large with yellowish orange flesh, is a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. Carrots can be found in a variety of colors other than the familiar orange. A sweet potato has a reddish outer covering with brilliant orange flesh. These are just a few examples of the root vegetables grown throughout the world and available locally at the market.
Choose vegetables that don’t have nicks or cracks in the skin. If the tops are still attached, look for ones with the freshest greens. Most root vegetables can be stored for weeks in the refrigerator. Sweet potatoes can be stored in a cool, dark place like a cupboard.
Root vegetables are the pantry for the plant, storing energy and nutrition in the form of starch. This starch is not edible, but cooking softens the starches into sugars, which we can eat. Incidentally, carrots have a higher level of sugar, making them edible when raw.
It takes some patience to turn these starchy vegetables into a delicious dish, however you will be rewarded. The simplest way to prepare root vegetables is to roast them: cut a variety of parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and carrots into bite size pieces and toss with olive oil and salt and peppers to taste. Spread the pieces out on a baking sheet lined with tin foil, and roast in a 400-degree oven until soft, about 45 minutes.
Cooking in moist heat goes a little faster. Braise sliced vegetables in a small amount of liquid, be it water, broth or white wine. Boil with the lid on until vegetables are tender, then uncover and let the liquid evaporate.
Sweet potatoes make a great last-minute supper. Pierce the potato with a fork, and microwave until soft, about four minutes (depending on the size). Top with a pat of butter, sour cream, leftover chili, or anything else in your fridge.
There is a lot of good nutrition stored in these roots! Turnips and rutabagas are high in vitamin C, while carrots get their distinctive orange color from beta-carotene, which our body turns into vitamin A. Both of these nutrients are anti-oxidants, and vitamin A is also important for DNA synthesis. If you buy these vegetables with the tops, cook them as you would other greens because there’s a lot of good nutrition in those leaves!
Stock up on some root vegetables the next time you’re at the market, and you’ll have an easy supper any day of the week.