Get Rooted: A Rundown of Fall Root Vegetables

October 25, 2016

As the gardens in the Gallatin Valley, or what’s left of them, slump under the coating of fall frost and the occasional autumn snow, it’s hard to imagine that eating fresh local vegetables is still an option in Montana.

However, area farmers are still harvesting greens of all sorts in their greenhouses, colorful winter squash of all shapes and sizes decorate the produce shelves and there’s also an abundance of root vegetables this time of year.

Adding a hearty and nutritious kick to fall comfort food menus, this is the primo time of year for warming stews, rich with sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips and turnips or for a hearty array of roasted root vegetables to accompany a meal.

Nutrition

Not only are root vegetables earthy and tasty symbols of the fall harvest but they are also nutritional powerhouses. With roots that burrow deep into the soil, these vegetables are able to soak up and absorb more nutrients than your typical above-ground plants.

Although they differ slightly in nutritional benefits depending on their color and variety, many share common traits, such as high levels of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins A and C, potassium, magnesium and iron.

Root vegetables are also considered complex carbohydrates, making them a common staple food in many countries. Low in sugar, they are filling, yet low in calories and fat, helping you to feel fuller for longer. They are also gluten-free and can easily take the place of grains on the dinner plate for something nutritious and delicious.

Varieties

From the deep red color of beets to the bright orange carrot to the purple onion, the neon orange flesh of the yam to the stark white turnip and parsnip, root vegetables cover the spectrum of colors.

The spectrum of flavors is just as abundant, ranging from the sweetness of sweet potatoes and yams to the earthy flavor of rutabaga to the spicy flavor of onions and ginger. Here is a list of the most common root vegetables often found in Co-op West Main's Produce Department:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnip
  • Parsnip
  • Jicama
  • Sweet potato
  • Yam
  • Onion
  • Ginger
  • Kohlrabi
  • Radish

Selection & Storage

Let’s face it, root vegetables are not always the prettiest of them all, but they are resilient. Grown underground, they have a tough outer layer of skin that needs to be either scrubbed well, preferably with a brush, or peeled. On the produce shelves, you want to choose those with hard textures and few scrapes and bruises. If the greens are still atop, make sure they look healthy and vibrant (some, like beet greens, are tasty and nutritious).

If stored properly, most root vegetables will keep for a long time (hence the root cellars of the past that kept them fresh well into winter). Store them covered in the vegetable drawer in the fridge, as uncovered root vegetables will become soft and spoil faster.

Uses

From grill to oven, from boiling to sauteeing, root vegetables are extremely versatile when it comes to cooking. And some, like beets, carrots, onion, jicama and radish can be served raw, as great additions to salads.

  • For a simple and delicious side dish or salad addition, toss one or a variety of roots vegetables in oil, salt, pepper and other herbs of your choice (I like garlic powder) and throw them in the oven for up to 30 minutes at 350 degrees, stirring on occasion. Or, instead of the oven, throw them into a grill basket.
  • Add diced root vegetables to soups and stews or blend them as the base for a soup.
  • Dice or slice sweet potatoes, yams and/or rutabaga into fry shape, coat in oil and bake until soft, yet crispy.
  • Boil or steam root vegetables and mash them, replacing them for the typical mashed potato side dish.
  • Shred raw beets, jicama and carrots on top of a salad or use as the base of a salad
  • Simply bake a sweet potato, yam and/or beet and substitute for a baked potato.