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Turnips, along with cabbages, were the most common vegetables in the diet of European peasants in the Middle Ages. These humble vegetables, along with other roots, prevailed during this time because of their ability to keep for long periods and stand up to the predominant cooking method of the day: boiling. A cooking pot hanging by a chain over an open fire served as a stove in every home. Stews and soups filled with turnips, rutabagas and parsnips filled every pot.
These vegetables, rooted in Europe, were brought to the United States in the 1600s. Unlike some European imports, such as Brie and Champagne, root vegetables are under-celebrated. Their high nutritional quality, however, gives us much to cheer about.
Roots: Well-grounded Nutritionally
Turnips, rutabagas and parsnips are all good sources of vitamin C and offer two to three grams of dietary fiber per half-cup. Turnips are an excellent source of vitamin A and parsnips are an excellent source of the B vitamin folate. In addition, turnips and rutabagas are members of the cruciferous vegetable family. Like their cousins, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, these crucifers contain the potent anti-cancer compound, sulforaphane as well as other phytonutrients.
Roots: Can Hang on Long
These vegetables have staying power. Just be sure to choose good quality roots at your store or farmers' market.
Turnips have a white skin with a red or purple blush. The skin of a rutabaga is purple to yellow. When choosing either, opt for small to medium-sized roots that have smooth skin and feel firm and heavy. Leave behind the rubbery or limp. Parsnips look like white carrots. Choose those that are small to medium-sized, firm, smooth and well shaped. Avoid discolored, soft and long and woody parsnips.
Store roots in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Keep turnips and rutabagas on hand for two weeks, and parsnips for three or four. Scrub and peel all three before preparing.
Roots: Unearth Their Possibilities
Roots are some of the most versatile of vegetables. Not only are sturdy roots a requisite for many hearty stews, you can also steam, braise, roast or microwave them. Add them to grain dishes and casseroles, or purée them into a thick soup.
Use turnips or rutabagas as you would potatoes. Their peppery flavors will perk up gratins or make a smart substitute for your usual side of mashed spuds. Cook the sweet, nutty parsnip as you would a carrot. Chop and add to stir-fries or simply steam, sprinkle with cinnamon and serve as a side dish.
Expand your horizons; give other root vegetables like the beet, radish, jicama and salsify a try!
Celebrate root vegetables with these FoodFit recipes:
Celeriac, Rutabaga and Pear Puree
Roasted Root Vegetables
Celery Root Bisque with Stilton and Apple
This article was contributed by Catherine Macpherson, MS, RD