Blog Directory - Blogged foodliterate: November 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Roots of Fall

I know I’ve been MIA and that I missed Halloween, (in fact it’s getting pretty darn close to Thanksgiving!) and for this I apologize. So I’ve had plenty of time to think about what my next topic should be & was inspired by the cooler temperatures and my favorite holiday All Hallows Eve. Its origins lie in the Celtic holiday: the feast of Samhain. Back then lanterns were made of carved turnips (hey – I guess you use what you have!) to ward off evil spirits. Later when Celtic immigrants came to the Americas, they didn’t find turnips – they found pumpkins and thus the tradition began.

Nice story – huh? But you want to know what this has to do with food, right? Well pumpkins, beets, turnips – they are all winter vegetables and we don’t cook or eat as much of them in the US as they do elsewhere. Maybe it’s just because we don’t know enough about them to try.

Turnips are part of the Cruciferae family along with cabbages, radishes, mustard, horseradish, broccoli, cauliflower and many others. Specifically they are Brassica rapa, part of the Brassica genus (cabbage). Both the roots and leaves are edible; in fact Bok Choy (aka Chinese cabbage) is a variety of Brassica rapa that is just grown for its leaves. The turnip root has a flavor similar to radishes and cabbage (not too surprising), while the leaves taste like mustard greens. Turnip roots are high in vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, folate, calcium and lutein. They can be boiled, roasted, or braised, while the leaves are best steamed or braised.

Rutabagas (Brassica napobrassica) are a cross between a cabbage and a turnip; and like the turnip, both the leaves and root are edible. Both turnips and rutabagas have anti-cancer properties (a trait shared by the Cruciferae family) by acting as an androgen receptor antagonist. The roots are high in vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, potassium and manganese. The cooking for rutabagas is the same as for their cousins the turnips.

Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) are related to the carrot, as can easily be discerned by their appearance. Parsnips are known for their sweetness, but their flavor doesn’t develop until they’ve been exposed to near-freezing temperatures for 2 – 4 weeks. In fact, if you want really sweet parsnips, leave the roots in the ground to overwinter & pick them in the spring; the starches will have converted to sugar. Parsnips can be used as a replacement for potatoes in recipes and can be roasted, boiled, braised, fried, sautéed, or steamed. They are higher in potassium and fiber than carrots, high in folic acid, calcium & zinc. When choosing parsnips, look for ones that are 8” or smaller, so they won’t be woody, and that are crisp & firm. Their flavor is sweet & nutty, while their aroma is similar to celery.

Beets (Beta vulgaris) are part of the amaranth family, along with chard and sugar beets. The most familiar color of beet is red, but there are golden beets (my personal favorite) and candy-striped beets called Chioggia (think peppermints). The color of beets is due to betalain pigments; the betacyanins are red to purple, while the betaxanathins are yellow to orange. The earthy aroma and flavor of beets comes from Geosmin, an organic compound that humans can detect a levels of 5ppm of lower. Beet roots are high in folic acid, potassium, vitamin C, calcium and antioxidants (betacyanin). The leaves, also edible, are high in vitamin A, potassium, calcium and iron. Beet roots can be pickled, steamed, baked or roasted, while the leaves are best braised or steamed.

I hope that these underused vegetables have become a little less scary and a little more interesting to those of you who may never had tried them. Now is the perfect time to grab some at your grocery store or farmer’s market and enjoy some of the fall harvest on your dinner plates!