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Healthy Root Vegetables for Fall

By Jennette Turner

“…We should give cold weather a chance, recognizing winter as a culinary season in its own right, one that offers ample gustatory rewards. Few pleasures are more satisfying than coming in from the cold to a warm house filled with the aromas of freshly baked bread and slowly simmered soups, or the earthy smell of oven-roasted vegetables.” Darra Goldstein, The Winter Vegetarian

Minnesotans are acutely aware of winter. It is the subject of much discussion, and no small part of our cultural identity, yet we often ignore the culinary traditions of the season, opting instead for the glamorous fruits and vegetables of summer. But instead of relying only on the abundance of California during our long cold months, we need to embrace the joys of seasonal eating, and enjoy the bounty provided by our own frosty land. We need to get back to our roots (ahem…), and bask in the essential pleasures of winter vegetables.

Root vegetables and tubers are the best kind of comfort food: they’re hearty without being heavy, they have a rich and soothing mouth-feel, they’re familiar and satisfying, and they taste delicious! Begin to notice all the different kinds of roots and tubers available at the Wedge - you’ll see a wide variety of shapes (long thin daikon radishes, round hairy celery roots), sizes (little bunched turnips, large smooth rutabagas) and beautiful colors (dark purple beets, bright orange yams, creamy ivory parsnips). This great diversity is available from local and regional sources for much of the year, including wintertime.

These vegetables can be prepared in many different ways, from homey mashed sweet potatoes to sophisticated parsnip brandades. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find more versatile foods! They can be used in soups and stews, or pureed into dips and spreads. They can be roasted, baked or grilled. They can be sautéed in stir-fries or battered and deep-fried. They can be made into patties and fritters, or relishes and crudités. From gratins and casseroles to salads and salsas, roots and tubers will delight you.

You can find roots and tubers in every culinary tradition, their earthiness lending itself to both subtle and intense flavors: rich Japanese tempura, spicy Indian curries, pungent Korean kimchees, delicate French purees, and sweet American baked yams (with or without the marshmallows!J).

Roots and tubers are wonderful health foods, too. They have complex carbohydrates that give us energy without causing big swings in our blood sugar levels, so we’re satisfied for longer periods of time. And they’re a great source of fiber - the “roughage” that moves through the digestive system, maintaining regularity and preventing colon cancer. Fiber can help lower blood pressure and it also helps with weight control, because it gives us a feeling of fullness without any calories.

These vegetables are literally storehouses of nutrients, and they provide us with a wealth of vitamins and minerals, such as the disease-preventing anti-oxidants beta-carotene and vitamin C, as well as B-vitamins, potassium, and iron. Cruciferous vegetables (including roots like turnips, rutabagas, and kohlrabi) also contain special properties that prevent cancer in the stomach, intestines and colon.

And if their being beautiful, versatile, and nutritious isn’t enough for you, consider how inexpensive and easy they are to prepare! Most roots don’t even have to be peeled - just scrub them with a vegetable brush under running water to remove any dirt. If you prefer them peeled, make sure you have a sharp peeler (it might be time to get a new one!) and peel off only the thinnest amount of skin. Make sure you have sharp knives, too – it will make cutting hard roots easier.

Choose the freshest roots you can find – ones that have smooth skin and are firm without any wobbliness. Store them unwashed in plastic bags, pressing as much air out of the bag as possible. They should last a few weeks in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator this way.

During the winter months I like root vegetables best when they’re baked or roasted. It takes longer than steaming or boiling, but it’s worth the wait – the their flavors intensify and their sweetness becomes more pronounced. Plus you get a warm kitchen and wonderful aromas filling your house. Perfect for a cozy winter meal.

To bake root vegetables, simply chop them into bite-size chunks and put them in a buttered or oiled baking dish. Sprinkle them with salt and add a few pats of butter (or a little drizzle of olive or coconut oil.) You can also add any herbs you like, or garlic. Then bake them, covered, for around 45 minutes at 400. Stir once during cooking.

Roasting vegetables is just as easy. Again, simply chop them into bite-size chunks and put them in a buttered or oiled baking dish. Lightly coat them with olive or coconut oil. Sprinkle them with salt, and them put them in the oven uncovered, for around 45 minutes at 400. Stir once during cooking.

Here are a couple of the many simple, delicious ways you can prepare your favorite root vegetables. Don’t be afraid to try new ones, either. Make new friends! Even people who think they don’t like certain roots (like beets, for instance) may realize they’ve never had them freshly prepared and might change their minds. Winter doesn’t have to be bleak when we have a rich array of nourishing root vegetables and tubers to warm our tummies and invigorate our palates. Enjoy!

Tarragon Baked Carrots
Ingredients:
1lb. carrots (about 6), chopped into bite-size chunks
butter
1 tsp. tarragon
salt

Directions:
1. Butter a baking dish.
2. Add carrots. Sprinkle with tarragon and stir – make sure the tarragon is evenly distributed. You can add a bit more, if needed.
3. Sprinkle with salt and stir.
4. Add a few pats of butter on top.
5. Cover the dish and bake at 400 for about 45 minutes, or until tender, stirring once during cooking.

Roasted Beets with Gorgonzola and Pecans
Ingredients:
1 1/2 lb. beets, chopped into bite-size chunks
olive oil
2-3 oz. gorgonzola
1/4 c. pecans
salt

Directions:
6. Oil a baking dish.
7. Add beets and drizzle olive oil over them. Stir them with your hands to make sure they are evenly coated with oil.
8. Sprinkle with salt and stir.
9. Roast, uncovered, at 400 for about 45 minutes, or until tender, stirring once during cooking.
10. Take the beets out of the oven and stir in the gorgonzola and pecans.

Jennette turner is a Natural Foods Educator in Minneapolis. She Teaches public and private classes, and offers individual nutrition consultations. Jennette launced Dinner with Jennette (www.jennette-turner.com/dinner), to make it easier for people to incorporate natural foods into their diets. she can be reached at jennette-turner.com / 612-374-6039

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