Today we have access to a huge variety of fresh produce, in or out of season. This wasn’t always the case, however. My grandmother would often tell me of her struggle to feed the family during the Great Depression, when she served beans and cornbread almost daily. Vegetables were only available in season and mostly consisted of what could be grown in the backyard garden: tomatoes, peas, green beans, and corn. A summer pot of simmering fresh green beans was relished greatly and consumed quickly. Precious fresh fruit was only in the house when someone was sick.
Yet, despite the current abundance, diversity and availability of fruits and vegetables, children, and many adults, are often wary of any plant food other than the common peas, corn, and green beans. Root vegetables – beets, turnips, parsnips, carrots, and rutabagas, for example – are often the most critically scrutinized aliens on the plate. It seems that there’s nothing new under the sun as the age old battle of coaxing, pleading, and bribing family members to eat healthy foods is repeated throughout history. “If you eat your vegetables, Samson, you will grow up to be big and strong enough to fight those nasty Philistines.”
So, why is there such a mass abhorrence of vegetables in general and root vegetables in particular? Could it be the way in which they are prepared? Could the texture and not necessarily the taste be the root of the problem? I remember vegetables as always being “mushy.” Fresh produce was not as readily available when I was growing up, so most of our veggies came out of a can. But, even when we could get fresh vegetables, they were usually cooked to the mush stage. Grandma would cook her green beans for an hour at least and then, when they were falling apart, she would cook them a little longer just to be sure they were really dead.
My experience is that it’s probably better to undercook rather than overcook fresh vegetables to retain color and crunch. The addition of herbs and spices enhances their delicate flavors, but sometimes just a few pats of butter or tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper are all that’s needed. I’ve also discovered that instead of boiling or steaming, most vegetables (especially root vegetables) are delicious roasted. Just mix them with olive oil, place on a baking sheet, and stick them in the oven at 400-425 degrees for about thirty to forty minutes.
Colorful and hardy root vegetables are absolutely packed to the brim with nutritious vitamins, minerals and fiber absorbed efficiently from the soil. Unfortunately, this capability to take in good things may also include sucking up any toxins present in the soil. Ideally, then, one should buy only root veggies labeled as “organic.” But, due to the high cost and questionable credentials of all things labeled “organic,” you may want to grow your own instead. Root vegetables are best grown as fall crops. This means that they must be planted in the middle of the hot summer and watered faithfully to survive until harvest in the cooler temperatures of autumn. The results, however, are worth the labor. The following recipes are easy to prepare and quite tasty.
ROASTED POTATOES AND ONIONS
6-8 white, red or gold potatoes, unpeeled
1 large onion, sliced thinly
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons herbs or spices (optional) – rosemary, basil or parsley are my favorites
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients together until well-coated. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes, or until vegetable are tender and lightly browned. Serves 6
ROASTED CARROTS AND PARSNIPS
2 lbs carrots, cut into chunks or sticks
2 lbs. parsnips, cut into chunks or sticks
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
¼ cup butter (1/2 stick)
¼ cup honey
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the carrots, parsnips, olive oil, salt and pepper together. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 35-40 minutes, tossing halfway through the roasting time. NOTE: if the vegetables were cut into sticks instead of chunks, the roasting time may be less. While vegetables are roasting, melt the butter, and stir in the honey and balsamic vinegar. When tender and slightly browned, remove the vegetables from the oven and drizzle the butter mixture over. Toss lightly and serve immediately. Serves 6.
CHILLED BEET SALAD
3 or 4 large beets
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sour cream
1-2 teaspoons snipped fresh dill weed
In a saucepan, cover the beets with water, bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until cooked through. When done, drain the beets and plunge them into ice water for a few minutes. The skins should then come off easily. When thoroughly cooled, cut beets into slices or chunks and mix with the sugar, balsamic vinegar and salt. When well-coated, add the sour cream and dill weed and stir gently. The sour cream will turn a lovely pink color. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator to keep for several days. Serves 6.
by: Debbie Reed