Roots: Embrace the Season

Post by Paula Jahn, Co-owner and Dietitian at Nourish Northwest

When I lived in San Diego, California, I would stroll the beachside farmers’ market in January, selecting delicate lettuces, ripe red bell peppers and basil. The only hint of winter was the abundance of citrus fruits. Otherwise, eating seasonally looked much like it did the rest of the year.

Since moving to the Pacific Northwest over seven years ago, I have learned to rejoice in the rich seasonality of our foodstuffs. While we endure the drippy, gray days, I think back to the monotony of weather and produce in southern California. When summer finally comes around, we Portlanders are more excited than most to see strawberries and the first ripe stone fruit. It’s nice to have that to look forward to. When the days get shorter, I also look forward to what the colder months have to offer. One of the few classes of edible plants that survive (thrive in) the winters of the Northwest are root vegetables. And when the damp descends upon us, we are ready for hearty, warm stews of winter squash and roots.

Root abundance.

 

Watermelon radish.
Galangal root is traditional in Thai cooking.

A problem arises for some of us only when we allow the long winter to squash (pun intended) our creativity. It may seem that variety is difficult to come by, especially when many farmers’ markets close for the cold months. That’s where preparation comes in. Roots are much more versatile than most vegetables: Roast ‘em, stew ‘em, mash ‘em, crunch ‘em, sauté ‘em, braise ‘em, or pickle ‘em.

Besides carrots and potatoes, most root vegetables get ignored. Winter is a time to explore the underground world of roots and tubers. They are so knotty and gnarly that they intimidate and confound the cook.  This post is inspired by my desire to embrace the winter in the Pacific Northwest, my love of seasonal eating and recent kitchen discoveries at Nourish Northwest.

One of my favorite root vegetables is celeriac, or celery root. I am hard-pressed to find anything better than celery root, cubed up with other root vegetables and nestled under a whole roasted chicken. If you missed our Vegan Vitality class, the Celery Root Soup with Granny Smith Apples was a favorite! We are featuring it again in our January Vegan Vitality cooking class.

Celery Root Soup.(1)

We recently made pan roasted salsify, which looks like petrified dung but tastes mildly of oysters and artichokes. In fact, one of salsify’s common names is oyster root. With lemon juice and parsley, I certainly could taste the ocean.

Salsify: The ugly stick.
Salsify, not so ugly anymore.
Roasted salsify with lemon and parsley.

I know I’m a dietitian, but sometimes I get so wrapped up in the culinary delights of food that I forget to talk about its nutritional merits. Maybe it’s my way of rebelling against the status quo (I don’t like to reduce food to numbers), or maybe I just love good food and trust that if it’s whole and seasonal, then the numbers don’t matter. However, I think root vegetables deserve a word on nutrition.  Just as they are ignored in the produce section, many edible roots are perceived as lumpy masses, devoid of nutrients. All root vegetables are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other health-promoting nutrients. Many of them contain slowly-digested carbohydrates that help regulate blood sugar levels in the body. Here are some of the stars:

Parsnips are a good source of dietary fiber. Just 1 medium parsnip boasts 6.5 grams of fiber. They also provide 14% of the daily value (DV) of potassium, which helps to regulate a healthy blood pressure and is an important mineral in muscle contraction. Vitamin K acts a coenzyme during the synthesis of proteins involved in blood clotting and bone metabolism and is present at 37% DV.

 

Beets derive their hue from pigments called betalains. Betalains, in addition to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are also detoxifying. They trigger a family of enzymes that binds toxins in cells, allowing them to be excreted from the body.

 

Celeriac (celery root) is rich in vitamins C, K, E and A. It is low in calories and carbohydrate and can be mashed with potatoes for reduced carbohydrate and enhanced flavor.

 

Salsify and Jerusalem Artichokes are two of the best dietary sources of inulin. Inulin is a type of prebiotic fiber that encourages the colonization of bifidobacteria in the colon. Bifidobacteria can reduce the concentration of harmful bacteria, aid in constipation and have a positive effect on the immune system.

Jerusalem artichoke or Sunchoke. Delicious raw.

For more creative ideas on how to select and prepare root vegetables, check out Portland author Diane Morgan’s beautiful new book, Roots. It just might get you through the rest of winter!

(1) http://smithsvegankitchen.blogspot.com/2011/07/celery-root-soup-wgranny-smith-apples.html

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