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A FRESH Point of View: Going Back To Your Roots

When someone tells me they don’t like beets, or turnips, or parsnips, or any kind of root vegetable, I always ask them why not. And I usually get one of two answers: They taste too strong, or they’re boring.

That may have been true the way your grandma made them – boiled or pickled, or just cooked to death. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

Over the last decade, chefs and home cooks have rediscovered humble root veggies. Why? Because, like pretty much any vegetable, if you know how to cook ‘em, they’re actually pretty delicious.

Coming into prime season right now, root vegetables have a deep, earthy, complex flavor that works equally well in homey comfort food and more gourmet fare. You don’t have to boil them and serve them plain.  Instead, the way to cook root vegetables today is to roast or sautee them, perk them up with fresh herbs or balsamic vinegar, or turn them into a creamy puree or soup.

So now that beautiful fall root vegetables are flooding into the FRESH produce department, it’s time to re-introduce yourself to them.  Here are some of my favorites, both old-school and newer, more exotic varieties:

Okinawa Sweet Potatoes: These are also called Hawaiian Purple Sweet Potatoes, and when you cut them open, you’ll see why. The flesh is a beautiful, deep purple color. (Kids love the looks of these.) Naturally sweet, and a little creamier than regular sweet potatoes,  they make a great pie or quick bread, but they’re also good in savory dishes. You can bake them, boil and mash them, or fry them up like French fries. Or use them in any recipe where you’d use regular sweet potatoes.

Sunchokes: These used to be called Jerusalem artichoke, but the sunchoke name is catchier, don’t you think? Also, it’s more descriptive. The sunchoke is actually a type of sunflower; you eat the edible tuber. Cooked, they taste a little nutty, a little sweet; they might remind you a little bit of a potato. You can also eat them raw. That way, they are crunchy and mild, and can be substituted for jicama or water chestnuts.

Parsnips: They look like white carrots, but parsnips have a taste all their own. They are not quite as sweet as a carrot, and some people compare them to a very mild turnip. You can cook them with a pot roast, like you would carrots and potatoes, but because they’re fairly starchy, they also make a delicious puree, with a more complex flavor that’s great when you want something more sophisticated than mashed potatoes.

Beets: Beets used to get a bad rap because most people didn’t know how to cook them; pickling or boiling them doesn’t add much to their flavor. But if you roast a beet, it gently caramelizes, bringing out a sweeter flavor. They’re great just seasoned with salt and butter, paired with beef or pork roasts.  Or a  new classic is to combine cooled, roasted beets with your favorite vinaigrette, salad greens, a bit of goat cheese, and roasted almonds or sunflower seeds for a fresh, healthy salad.