THE ROOT OF THE MATTER

Q: What does Kohlrabi have to do with broccoli?

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that the “beautiful rests on the foundations of the necessary” and nothing could be truer for the workhorses of the culinary world: root vegetables. Despite their functionality and crude appearance, root vegies are at the core of cuisines worldwide due to their flavour, affordability and nutritional value.

While Winter is the peak season for most root vegetables, Autumn sees early lines of root vegetables arriving at the markets- preparing us for the chilly months and comfort food to come.  Here’s some of the more unusual or timely root vegetables to keep an eye out for this Autumn.

POTATOES:

While we have previously explored the most popular taters and their uses (see Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew post) here’s some strong Autumn varieties.

Burbank aka Idaho

When: All year, best Mar – Dec

How: The chip potato! Though also good for baking and roasting

Kennebec

When: All year, best Jan – Oct

How: Starchy so make great chips but also good mash, boiled, baked or fried

Pontiac: 

When: Available all year but good buying at the moment

How: General purpose, though avoid frying. Density means longer cooking time but holds shape well and has minimal discolouration after cooking

Royal Blue:

When: All year, best Feb – Aug

How: All rounder- good cooking variety (roast, mash, chip, salad)

 

 

 

CELERIAC: aka Celery root

Image: www.marketfresh.com.au

Availability: All year, best Mar – late Sept

Appearance: creamy brown solid tuber

Flesh: white

Flavour: rich texture & slightly smoky flavour – cross between celery and parsley

Selection: choose medium size roots that are firm, if the leaves are still attached look for healthy plump stalks

Preparation: Don’t wash until ready to use and peel tough outer layer. Think remoulade, soups, chips, or as a side (boiled, steamed, mashed). Raw they are often grated in salads (use lemon to stop discolouration once cut)

Nutritional value: good dietary fibre and Vitamin C

 

KOHLRABI: aka Turnip-rooted cabbage, Cabbage Turnip

Availability: early produce at markets now, best Jun – Aug

Appearance: swollen stem at the base of blue/green leaves, stem can be red/light green (white)

Flesh: pale green – creamy white and crispy

Flavour: slightly sweeter than broccoli stems or cabbage heart. White tends to be slightly softer and milder, while red is larger and has a stronger aroma and flavour

Selection: buy med size (larger = woodier). Look for crisp, good colour

Preparation: cut off base, trim stalks. To get the most value and nutrients, cook whole with skin on then peel after cooking. Otherwise, use much like a turnip- lovely raw in salads or roasted/sauted

Nutritional value: very high Vitamin C and potassium

 

LOTUS ROOT: aka renkon

Image: naturespride.eu

Availability: Mar – Nov

Appearance:  root (rhizome) with reddish brown skin

Flesh: slightly crunchy, white flesh with air holes running the length of the root

Flavour: sweet, crisp (maintains texture when cooked)

Selection: firm, plump and juicy with no soft spots. The darker the root the older it is

Preparation: Peel and go. Can be eaten raw like celery or carrot on a platter or in salads. When cooking it is recommended to blanch prior to cooking to avoid discolouration. Steam, stuff, caramalise, stew, candy or use in a curry or soup

Nutritional value: dietary fibre, Vitamin C, minerals- copper, iron, zinc, magnesium

 

HORSERADISH:

Image: www.marketfresh.com.au

Availability: Mar – Nov

Appearance: white, tapered root

Flesh: white

Flavour: spicy, pungent nose burn- similar to wasabi or mustard (which are in the family)

Selection: avoid shrivelled or dry roots with soft or green spots

Preparation: fresh roots aren’t pungent but (similar to wasabi) the process of cutting, grating or grinding causes its cells to breakdown and undergo a chemical reaction. This reaction releases oils which provide the pungent aroma and taste. Once prepared, fresh horseradish should be used quickly or it will lose its potency (if left exposed it can also develop a bitter taste)

Nutritional value: antibacterial (good for colds) source of potassium, calcium and magnesium

 

PARSNIP:

Image: www.parsniprecipes.co.uk

 

Availability: All Year, best Mar – Oct

Appearance: taproot that looks like a white carrot

Flesh: creamy white

Flavour: sweet yet with a slightly nutty, peppery edge

Selection: pick small to medium size roots (large have a woody core) with a smooth, firm surface

Preparation: Best in dishes with prolonged cooking

Nutritional value: good source of potassium, dietary fibre, vitamin C and niacin

 

SWEET POTATO: aka kumera

Image: www.marketfresh.com.au

Availability: All year, best May to July

Appearance: long, tapered root with smooth skin that can be white, orange, red or purple

Flesh: can be white, yellow, bright orange or purple. 

Flavour: sweet – orange varieties are sweetest due to a higher sugar content

Selection: bright, uniform skin that is clean and smooth with no cracks or bruises

Preparation: can peel or scrub the skin. The options are endless, they can transform into everything from a scone to a chip- while also good raw in salads or coleslaw

Nutritional value: Orange varieties are best for Vitamin C, beta-carotene and dietary fibre, though  all are fat free with good Vitamin C, A

 

TARO

Selection: choose hard, firm tubers heavy for their size

Preparation: use much like you would a potato – bake, roast, chip, fry or boil or chop into soups, curries, casseroles or stews

Image: www.marketfresh.com.au

White:

Availability: May – Jan

Appearance: small- medium tubers with brown to purple/brown skin

Flesh: white

Flavour: somewhere between a potato and a chestnut

Pink: aka Samoan Taro

Availability: Jul – Aug

Appearance: small- medium tubers with brown to purple/brown skin

Flesh: white

Flavour: slightly nutty

Yellow: aka Dasheen

Availability: Jul – Aug

Appearance: large, long tubers with a yellow skin (avoid any with pink skin as this indicates damage)

Flesh: pale yellow

Flavour: nutty, slightly sweet, dryer texture- preferred variety for Polynesian cooking

Japanese: aka Sweet White, Mini Taro

Availability: Jun – Aug

Appearance: mini tubers that grow off the main tuber

Flesh: white

Flavour: sweet, moist – preferred for Asian/Japanese cuisine

 

JICAMA: aka Yam Bean, Mexican water chestnut

Image: www.care2.com

Availability: Jun – Dec

Appearance: tan coloured tuber

Flesh: white and crunchy

Flavour: crisp and sweet (cross between an apple and a potato)- high water content

Selection: medium size, firm with dry roots

Preparation: Use like apple or pear in salads (grated/chopped) as it won’t discolour. Can be used like a water chestnut in Asian dishes or chopped into stews or soups.

Nutritional value: very good source of Potassium, dietary fibre and Vitamin C

 

A: Believe it or not, they are related. They both belong to the species Brassica Oleracea, which also lays claim to Brussels Sprouts, Chinese Broccoli, Broccoflower, Collard Greens, Cauliflower, Cabbage and Kale. All deriving from Wild Cabbage, these strikingly different vegetables (in both appearance and flavour) have been deliberately shaped into their current forms through thousands of years of careful cultivation by humans.  

 

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