Root vegetables, like carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets and radishes, don’t seem to get the respect they deserve. Not only do these humble veggies supply more nutrients than people realize, they are also a blessing in tough economic times as they cost less than many other vegetables and can be stored for long periods of time.
People often picture dark green leafy vegetables when they think of folate, but beets and parsnips are equally good sources of this B vitamin – an important player in helping to protect DNA and lower cancer risk.
In addition, radishes, rutabagas and turnips are classified as cruciferous vegetables along with broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. This family of vegetables provides an important compound that seems to offer cancer protection by stimulating enzymes that deactivate carcinogens. Jicamas, rutabagas and celeriac (“celery root”) are all good sources of vitamin C; parsnips and rutabagas are high in potassium, which helps control blood pressure; and all these root vegetables supply dietary fiber.
Especially during winter months, when many favorite summertime vegetables come at a premium price, root vegetables are generally low-cost options. By adding them to your usual range of choices, you can get greater variety while keeping costs down. Keep them in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. (Radishes and turnips, lasting only a week, and carrots, usually lasting two weeks, are the exceptions.) Just make sure you start off with fresh, firm roots with no signs of withering.
Fast or slow:
Slowly baking root vegetables brings out a wonderful sweet flavor. Although a bit time consuming, requiring 40 to 60 minutes in the oven, there is very little hands-on prep time, except for chopping. They also make nice additions to stews and can be added for the last 20 minutes or so of cooking time. For faster preparation, chop root vegetables in small chunks and steam or microwave for 10 to 12 minutes. These can be served on their own or added to a ready-made soup for extra nutrients. Many of these root vegetables can also be sliced or grated and added to a salad. Or simply slice them to serve with a low fat dip.
Traditionally, many cooks serve root vegetables doused in butter or swimming in rich cream sauces. Fortunately, these vegetables also taste great when they are prepared more healthfully, for example stir-fried or baked. Simply toss with a touch of olive oil and add a fresh or dried herb of your choice (dill and thyme are favorites). A splash of orange or lemon juice or flavored vinegar adds a refreshing note when vegetable are steamed or microwaved. Another option is to play up their sweetness by roasting with some dried fruit or spooning reduced-sugar orange marmalade or other jam onto the cooked vegetables.