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Winter Root Vegetables

Updated on March 20, 2011

When the weather outside is frightful, and the produce section of the market is looking drab, root vegetables come to the cook's rescue! You can enjoy some of the less commonly used cousins of the carrot in heart-warming winter recipes that will not only be low in calories but absolutely delicious as well.

Similar in size and shape to carrots, but off-white, parsnips were once a commonly eaten carbohydrate in Europe. They were soon replaced by potatoes, but not before making history as a charm against snakebite in Greece. Parsnips in grocery stores are usually larger than carrots, but even freshly harvested, benefit from time in cold weather. The longer they stay in the ground, the sweeter parsnips become.

Turnips are slightly peppery in taste, like their cousin the radish. They are distinguished in appearance by white bulbous roots with a purple or reddish blush near the stems. The smaller the turnip, the sweeter; the larger, the more woody in texture. They have a high water content, so shrivel easily, and should be used as soon as possible. Similar in flavor to rutabagas, turnips can be used in their place in most recipes.

Another kin to radishes, rutabagas were developed as a cross between turnips and cabbage. They are larger than turnips, with a golden hue to the skin and a dark purple blush near the stem. Rutabagas are less peppery and more sweet, with a tough skin that should be removed before preparing them. They store well refrigerated.

Root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, turnips and rutabagas are the part of the plant that stores and provides nutrients for the greens that grow above-ground. Therefore, as food for us, they are packed full of nutrients. Very low fat, low sodium, and low calorie, root vegetables in general are healthy for us and very versatile.

The National Academy of Sciences recommends that we eat five servings a day of fruits and vegetables. To keep from getting bored with the same types of produce, choose a variety to try. Furthermore, the Academy suggests that at least one selection a day should be rich in vitamin A (like carrots), one should be rich in vitamin C (like cabbage or rutabagas), one should be high-fiber (whole vegetables), and one should be from the cruciferous family (like turnips).

Serving Suggestions

  • Substitute parsnips in recipes that call for carrots, either raw or cooked.
  • Slice parsnips and sauté with butter, salt and pepper; serve as a side dish.
  • Purée cooked parsnips with cooked potatoes, salt and pepper for a change from plain mashed potatoes.
  • Mix sliced parsnips with sliced carrots in a casserole for a nice color contrast.
  • Serve small raw turnips, trimmed, like radishes on a cold vegetable platter.
  • Braise diced turnips in butter and toss with peas for a sweet accompaniment to meat.
  • Add sliced turnips or rutabagas to stews or soups; they will absorb other flavors and become richer.
  • Mash cooked rutabagas with sautéed onions, salt and pepper and serve in place of potatoes.
  • Peel rutabagas and roast them alongside a pot roast or chicken.


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    • Louis Taylor profile image

      Louis Taylor 

      8 years ago from UK

      Oh thanks for reminding me, I love parsnip! Sadly did not grow any this year, just have to buy them in the supermarket.


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