Root vegetables are the starchy tubers and taproots of plants. If we let them be, they would provide the plant with needed nourishment to thrive. Instead, we pull them up and eat them and all their inherent sweet, starchy, vitamin-laden yummy-ness.
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Root vegetables aren't the first thing most people think to grill, but they can be delicious when cooked over an open flame. They develop a crusty exterior, and their starches get a bit sweet and nicely tender inside.
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Mashed potatoes are well known, as are mashed sweet potatoes (often sweetened with brown sugar). Other root vegetables like rutabagas, parsnips, turnips, and celery root are also delicious mashed - either on their own or mixed in with the more traditional potato.
- Peel root vegetables and cut into large, even chunks. Put them in a pot and cover with cold water.
- Bring to a boil. Add salt. Cook until vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.
- Drain thoroughly; return vegetables to pot over heat; shake pot to cook off any excess liquid, about 5 minutes.
- Put vegetables through a ricer or mash with a large fork or masher. Add cream, butter, milk, and/or buttermilk and salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
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- Scrub vegetables clean; peel if you like.
- Cut vegetables into bite-size pieces.
- Toss vegetables with enough olive oil, vegetable oil, or melted butter to lightly but evenly coat them.
- Put vegetables in a roasting or baking pan, sprinkle with salt. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, chopped herbs, or spices (such as cayenne) to taste.
- Roast in a hot oven (375 F to 425 F) until vegetables are tender and browned about 30 minutes.
- You can roast vegetables with chicken or meat; add them to the pan about half an hour before you expect the meat to be cooked.
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Root Vegetable Braise
Root vegetables become tender and deeply flavored when cooked slowly in a bit of liquid. You can cook one kind or, better yet, a mixture of root vegetables for a hearty side dish or casual vegetarian main dish.
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- Scrub or peel root vegetables and cut into large bite-size pieces if necessary.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add oil and root vegetables, sprinkle with salt, and pour in 1/2 to 1 cup broth. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook until vegetables are tender and starting to brown about 20 minutes.
- Add fresh herbs - rosemary, thyme, and parsley are good options - at the end for a bit of fresh flavor.
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- Peel vegetables and slice as thinly as possible (a mandoline works perfectly for this, but a sharp knife and steady hand works just fine).
- Rinse starchier vegetables, like potatoes, with cold water. Pat thoroughly dry.
- Heat oil from 350 F to 375 F. Fry chips in small batches (they should form no more than a single layer in the oil) until browning along the edges.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer fried chips to a cooling rack or paper towels to drain and let cool. Sprinkle with salt while still warm, but allow to cool (and crisp) completely before serving.
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Root Vegetable Fries
Cutting root vegetables into sticks and frying or baking them works best with the starchier root vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes.
- Peel vegetables and cut them into French fry sticks that are as even as possible.
- Soak cut vegetables in cold water for half an hour.
- Pat vegetables thoroughly dry.
- To fry: Heat oil from 325 F to 375 F. Fry vegetables in small batches until tender and browned. Drain on a cooling rack or paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and serve.
- To bake: Toss vegetables with vegetable oil to coat. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Bake at 425 F until tender and browned about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
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Root Vegetable Gratin
Root vegetables lend themselves perfectly to being thinly sliced, layered, and baked until tender. Gratins can be elegant side dishes or casual weeknight suppers. If you use onions or leeks, cook them until tender before adding to the gratin.
- Peel root vegetables and slice them thinly (a mandoline works perfectly for this, but a sharp knife and steady hand works just fine).
- Layer vegetables in a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and/or cheese every layer or two.
- Pour in a cup of broth, cream, or half-and-half if you like.
- Sprinkle gratin with freshly shredded cheese, chopped nut, and/or fresh breadcrumbs.
- Bake at 375 F until tender and browned, 45 minutes to an hour.
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Root Vegetable Hash
Root vegetables are delicious when shredded and cooked until browned and crispy. Make big slabs of root vegetable hash browns or more delicate patties, as you like.
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- Peel root vegetables and shred on the large hole of a grater. Soak or rinse in cold water, drain, and pat dry.
- Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan or on a griddle over high heat. Add the shredded vegetables in one large cake or individual patties and sprinkle with salt. They should sizzle immediately. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until well browned on one side. Flip and cook until the vegetables are tender and the hash browns are brown on both sides. Serve hot.
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Root Vegetable Salads
Root vegetables make great additions to salads. Roasted or boiled until tender, toss them with dressings when they are still warm so they absorb the flavors.
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Root Vegetable Soups
Root vegetables add flavor, nutrition, and bulk to soups and stews. When cut into bite-size pieces most root vegetables take about 20 minutes to become tender when boiled, so add them towards the end of cooking time to avoid mushy vegetables. Or, shred them on a large-holed grater to have them blend in a bit.