You wouldn’t think that dark and cold could yield a rainbow of deep color, but some of nature’s most colorful vegetables thrive in the harsh winter months that are typically void of flourishing plant life.
From dark magenta beets to hot pink radishes and lavender turnips ‑‑ winter root vegetables aren’t considered favorites to many, but offer a rich flavor that is perfectly comforting on cold nights and a unique balance of sweet, bitter, nutty and filling.
While some root vegetables – such as potatoes, carrots or onions -- are available in spring and summer, winter root vegetables are at their peak of flavor in the late fall and winter because it takes exposure to near-freezing temperatures for two to four weeks to develop the roots and convert the vegetables’ starch into sugar, a process that is necessary to develop their sweet, nutty flavor.
This is especially true in parsnips, rutabagas and turnips. While turnips do grow in the south, they’re typically used for their greens more than their roots.
Most of the root vegetables have edible greens that are full of nutrients, with the exception of potatoes whose stems and greens are highly poisonous.
All root vegetables contain healthful fiber and slow-digesting carbohydrates but they also offer an array of vitamins, minerals and nutrients that our bodies crave during months when days are shorter, sunlight is sparse and immunities are low due to seasonal illnesses or cold temperatures.
Parsnips: It may look like a white carrot, but it’s actually sweeter than a carrot and has a much firmer texture. They are high in vitamin C, potassium, folic acid and fiber. They are best enjoyed roasted as this cooking technique caramelizes the natural sugars in the vegetable.
Rutabagas: Similar to a turnip, a rutabaga is actually a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. They are very high in potassium and also contain a good amount of magnesium, B-6, fiber, vitamin C and protein. Rutabagas are best grown in northern areas or as a fall crop. When they develop and mature in hot weather, they do not develop typical sweetness and flavor. They are often used in European cuisine as a substitute for mashed potatoes. The large round root is more dense than a potato and simply needs to be peeled, cubed and boiled before mashing the same way as a potato.
Turnips: A rich source of vitamin C, turnips also give you a boost of vitamins B-2, B-3, B-9, E and K. It also contains the magnesium and potassium, phosphorus and zinc.
Carrots: Commonly known for their beta-carotene content, which is converted to vitamin A and protects against macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness.
Beets: These red and golden vegetables are packed with unique phytonutrients called betalains, which provide support for the body’s antioxidants and detoxifcation process.
Unlike most other red vegetables, which have anthocyanins to thank for their distinctive color (think red cabbage), beets derive their hue from pigments called betalains, which range in color from red-violet to yellow. Betalains, in addition to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, trigger a family of enzymes that binds toxic substances in cells, neutralizing and allowing them to be excreted from the body.
Radishes: High in vitamin C, radishes are helpful in lowering cholesterol, curing urinary tract disorders, and increasing the supply of fresh oxygen in the bloodstream.
Some other root vegetables to look for include daikon, horseradish, salsify, celery root and parsley root.
Roasted Carrots & Parsnips with Shallots
1 pound medium carrots, scrubbed well (peeled if desired)
1 pound parsnips, scrubbed well (peeled if desired)
8 shallots, peeled and halved
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon coarse mustard
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss carrots, parsnips, and shallots with balsamic vinegar, honey, mustard and oil, and season with salt and pepper. Spread mixture onto a large rimmed baking sheet, and roast, turning sheets once, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, about 35 minutes.
Rutabaga & Cauliflower Mash
1 head cauliflower
2 cloves whole garlic
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
Peel the rutabaga and cut into 1 inch pieces. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Let the rutabaga boil for 30 minutes then add the cauliflower and garlic and boil until it is very tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and drain. Place the pot back on the stove and while stirring over very low heat allow any additional moisture to steam out of the vegetables. Add the milk and butter and mash. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Sautéed Kale and Beets
1 bunch of kale
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
To prepare beets bring a pot of water to a simmer. Cut off the root stem of the beets and remove the green leafy tops. Place the beets in the simmering water and let cook for about five minutes or until slightly fork tender. Remove the beets from the water and cut into thin wedges. To prepare the kale, fold the leaves in half lengthwise with the backside of the leaf facing out. Cut down the back vein of the leaf to remove the center and stem. Discard stems. Roll leaves and slice into thin strips. Place in a large bowl and toss with the honey, 1 tablespoon of oil and salt. Heat a large sauté pan with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the beets and sauté until lightly crisp on the outside. Add the kale and sauté until wilted.
Roasted Turnips with Parmesan
2 pounds turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, combine turnips, cayenne, nutmeg, and oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss well to coat. Sprinkle with Parmesan and toss gently to combine. Arrange turnips in a single layer and roast until golden on both sides, 25 to 30 minutes, flipping halfway through.