December 14 2017

Seasonal Musings: Getting to the root of winter cooking

By Elisa Ludwig


Hairy, bumpy and misshapen, root vegetables are not glamourous. But these underground kitchen workhorses are ideal for hearty meals, especially in the pre-green months
. Often relegated to prepackaged soup kits or the forlorn corners of the supermarket shelf, they deserve a bigger place on the plate, especially in households trying to reduce meat consumption. The sheer variety of these vegetables, each with their own delicious qualities, makes them worthy of deeper exploration.

Roots such as turnip, rutabaga, celeriac and parsnip, which keep for months with proper storage, are a natural pairing for slow braise, either with meat or alone. Another obvious treatment is the mash—don’t skimp on butter, especially with drier-fleshed veggies like celery root and rutabaga. All types can also be baked in a winter gratin with breadcrumbs and milk, or roasted and tossed with grains and greens in a salad.

Mix and match for color and flavor interest. The traditional Jewish holiday dish tzimmes of carrots, yams and dried fruit is typically stewed on the stovetop but Steve’s version—perfectly paired with his brisket—calls for a sheet tray for more caramelization. The name translates in Yiddish to “making a big fuss,” but cutting the vegetables is really the only work involved. This version would be delicious for Christmas and New Year’s dinner as well. 

If you can find them, branch out with sunchoke, parsley root or yacon, all of which are delicious cut into chunks and simply roasted or cooked with stock and pureed. Sunchokes can take the place of potatoes in any dish—fried, baked, or layered in a gratin. Squeeze lemon juice over them before cooking to preserve the creamy color and add flavor dimension.

Brilliant Japanese sweet potatoes have purple skin, yellow flesh, and a uniquely mild flavor. They are excellent baked and dolloped with miso scallion butter, glazed with soy sauce, brown sugar and mirin and sprinkled with sesame seeds, or roasted in wedges with a bit of maple syrup.

Some roots especially lend themselves to salad treatment. Slice them thinly (a mandoline does wonders) or grate them and toss with a citrusy dressing. Or add grated roots like parsnip as a sweet counterpoint to a cabbage slaw. The now-ubiquitous roasted baby carrot salad on restaurant menus demonstrates that a pretty arrangement of different colored varieties with some green tops, a few ground nuts and a bright, creamy dressing can turn everyday carrots into something more memorable.

A surefire way to use up an assortment of leftover roots this Hanukkah season is to grate them and turn them into latkes—parsnips, beets, turnips, celeriac and kohlrabi all work well this way. Try a new combination and surprise your guests.

Keep in mind: Even though these veggies can last a long time in the larder, it’s important to feel the vegetables and even cut into them to assess their freshness and moisture content before committing them to dinner. A snappy texture and a few water beads will indicate that they’re new to the scene, while a stringy texture might mean they’re worthy only of stock.


Ginger Roasted Root Vegetable Tzimmes

Serves 6

3 cups peeled and cubed yams (1/4 inch cubes)
3 cups peeled and cubed carrots (1/4 inch cubes)
1 cup peeled and cubed celeriac (1/4 inch cubes)
1 cup peeled and cubed rutabaga (1/4 inch cubes)
1 cup dried apricots, halved
3/4 cup dates, pitted and quartered
2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
½ cup brown sugar
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a 2-quart baking dish, combine vegetables and bake for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove baking dish from the oven, leaving oven on. Stir in apricots and dates.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine ginger, orange zest and juice, olive oil and brown sugar. Whisk together until evenly mixed. Pour over vegetables and stir to coat evenly and return dish to oven.
  4. Roast vegetables, stirring occasionally to prevent browning and to redistribute the sauce, until cooked through and sauce has thickened, about 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Read other December 2017 Newsletter articles

Fresh From The Oven
Party In Focus
The Dish
The Takeaway
At Home
Sweet Talk
By The Glass
TFI News