Winter Root Vegetables: How to Choose, Store & Cook
‘Tis the Season for Winter Root Vegetables
During the cold months of winter (December to February), who’s thinking about veggies? For many of us, it’s a time of year when hibernate in a den of coffee, cocoa, and holiday cookies. We tend to assume that tasty seasonal produce just doesn’t exist during winter. Summer, spring, and fall are all known for certain types of seasonal produce, but winter is so often forgotten. Well, time to whip out your grocery list and a pen, because ‘tis the season for deliciously nutritious winter root vegetables!
Each season brings of the year brings us different types of fruits and veggies—winter included. Sure, summer is famous for its juicy mangos and melons, which grow best in warm temperatures. But, winter root vegetables thrive in cold temperatures, and many of them are at their peak flavor after the season’s first frost. Warmer weather can actually cause cold-weather crops to “bolt,” or turn bitter. That’s why it’s best to take advantage of these winter root vegetables while they’re at their prime!
But, it’s not just the flavors of winter root vegetables that are unique—they’re also some of the most nutrient-dense veggies on the planet! If you’ve never given root veggies a try, there’s no time like the present this winter. I’m sharing 9 tasty winter root vegetables you can find this season, along with how to choose, store, and cook with each of them. Plus, you’ll find tons of healthy, seasonal recipes that feature winter root vegetables!
One of my favorites is this simple balsamic roasted root vegetable medley, made with carrots, sweet potato, parsnip, turnip, rutabaga, and beets:
Why Should I Buy Seasonal Produce?
Nowadays, most kinds of produce are grown in unnatural conditions so they’re available to us year-round. Or, the produce we see stocking the shelves is less fresh than you might think, because it actually comes from storage or has been “cured” in some way to last longer. Since we’re accustomed to seeing just about every produce item all year long, few people take advantage of seasonal produce. For example, do you know when bananas are in-season? Probably not, because they’re stocked in the grocery store every day! But, like all produce, bananas actually have a peak season—during early spring.
So, does it even matter whether produce is in season or not? Produce items that grows in their natural season are at their peak flavor and nutritional quality because they’re growing in ideal conditions. Then, buying that produce while it’s in season means you’ll take home much fresher fruits and veggies. By the time we get our hands on an out-of-season item from storage, it’s been a pretty long time since it was harvested. And, in-season produce is almost always at its lowest price.
Of course, the specific crops that are labeled as “in season” will vary, depending on where you live and the kind of climate there. Farmer’s markets are great places to get acquainted with the seasonal produce in your area! More than likely, you’ll find winter root vegetables in your grocery store all year long. But, across most of the northern hemisphere, you’re likely to find juicier, more flavorful winter root vegetables during this chilliest of seasons.
What Are Winter Root Vegetables?
Generally, any part edible of a plant that grows under the ground is considered a root vegetable. But, technically, a true root vegetable must also function as the root of a plant. So, even though onions grow underground, they’re not actually a root vegetable because they don’t function as a root for the plant. A root absorbs moisture and essential nutrients from the soil, which is why winter root vegetables are SO nutrient-dense! Most winter root vegetables have a high concentration of antioxidants, which can help fight off chronic disease, reverse signs of aging, and detoxify our bodies. And, they’re rich in all kinds of vitamins and essential minerals, like vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and potassium.
Many winter root vegetables are known for being carb-heavy and starchy, like yams or rutabagas. But, the carbs in winter root vegetables are actually slow-burning, complex carbs! Complex carbs won’t cause dramatic blood sugar spikes, and help us to feel full and satiated. And, despite their hearty texture, winter root vegetables are characteristically low in calories across the board and high in dietary fiber. Some common root veggies include carrots, radishes, beets, turnips, parsnips, and rutabagas.
It’s best to store these cold-weather crops in cool, dark, humid areas—like a root cellar, basement, unheated garage, or in a bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge. And, when it comes to choosing fresh winter root vegetables (unlike many other types of produce), harder is better. Though some root veggies like carrots are delicious raw, most will taste best when cooked to soften their hard texture and tame their earthy flavors. Luckily, winter root vegetables are unbelievably versatile in cooking. Steam, boil, puree, mash, roast, sauté, or grill root veggies to make all kinds of deliciously comforting dishes!
Beets are as tasty as they are colorful! Their sweet, earthy flavor is pretty unique amongst winter root vegetables, but it makes beets a delicious addition to all kinds of dishes. In fact, beets have the highest natural sugar content of ANY vegetable! No wonder they’re so yummy. For maximum flavor, roast your beets whole to bring out all of that natural sweetness!
Now, technically, beets are at their peak season in the fall… But, they store extraordinarily well so you’ll find irresistibly sweet beets at your grocery store or farmer’s market all winter long. And, they’re chock full of healthy nutrients and antioxidants. Beets’ deep purple color comes from their high concentration of betalains—powerful phytonutrients that can help detoxify the body and fight against disease. But, besides red beets, you can also find golden beets (which are slightly sweeter), white beets, or Chiogga beets (which have a bullseye pattern on them)!
Beets Nutrition Highlights
- Beta-carotene: acts as an antioxidant to help protect the body from free-radical damage and slows signs of aging
- Betalains: amazing detoxifier, and helps fight inflammation in the body
- Folate (Vitamin B9): helps to foster healthy cell production and immune system function; may help prevent cancer and heart disease
- Vitamin C: for a healthy immune system, and helps to repair and regenerate body tissues
- Potassium: an electrolyte that helps nerves function, muscles contract, and keeps your heartbeat regular
- Fiber: just 1 cup of sliced beets has 15% of the recommended daily amount!
How to Choose & Store Beets
Choose beets with a deep reddish-purple color (unless you’re looking for golden beets, white beets, or Chiogga beets). Fresh beets should be hard to the touch with smooth skin, and they should be heavy for their size. Avoid beets with soft, moist spots or shriveled skin—they’re likely past their prime. If you find beets with the greens still attached, the greens should be fresh and crisp. But, if the greens are starting to wilt, it’s a good indicator that those beets aren’t so fresh anymore.
Remove greens (if they’re still attached) immediately before storing your beets. They’ll suck moisture out of the bulb and make the beets lose freshness faster! But, leave about 1 inch of the stem attached to each beet. This will help preserve their nutrients and their color. Transfer unwashed beets to a paper or plastic bag and store in the fridge, up to one month. (It’s best to wait to wash beets until ready to prepare them.) Store cooked beets up to 1 week.
How to Cook Beets
- Raw: Shred or spiralize beets to enjoy in a sweet, earthy salad. They add loads of nutrition and a nice crunch!
- Roast: Beets tend to be at their sweetest flavor and best texture when roasted. To roast whole beets, leave skin intact, wash, and wrap each beet in foil. Place on a baking sheet and roast at 400F for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until fork tender. Once cooled, the skin should peel right off. Or, peel and cut beets for a faster roast.
- Steam: Cut unpeeled beets into quarters and steam for 15 minutes. Allow to cool, peel off the skins, and use as desired! You can also boil beets, but it takes much longer because the beets should be left whole to preserve their color and nutrition.
- And, try pickled beets for a fun sweet-tangy flavor!
- BEWARE: When prepping or cooking with beets, their potent purple pigment will stain just about anything and everything. Don’t wear white clothes, and be prepared to rinse any cookware or countertops that you’re worried about staining!
- Bonus: You can also blanch beets’ leafy tops and add them to a salad!
- Pairs well with: carrots, fennel, citrus, pomegranate arils, feta cheese, goat cheese, pistachios, walnuts, ginger, honey, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, thyme, basil, chives, pork, beef, duck, salmon, swordfish
Recipes with Beets
Without a doubt, carrots are one of the most popular and beloved of all the winter root vegetables. And, they’re one of the most versatile veggies. We all know that carrots make a great, crunchy snack, but the possibilities are really endless. Enjoy them roasted, in soups and stews, pureed, or even grate your carrots and add them to baked goods! But, their natural sweetness becomes even more pronounced once they’ve been cooked.
And, cooking carrots is a pretty smart move for your body, too. The cooking process breaks down their tough cell walls, making healthy nutrients like beta carotene more useable by the body! That beta carotene converts to vitamin A, which keeps our immune system, skin, and eyes healthy. (Yes, carrots are good for your eyesight!) And, vitamin A is just one of the many antioxidants in carrots that can keep our body at its best and ward of disease. Take-home message: eat more carrots!
Carrots Nutrition Highlights
- Vitamin A: just 1 cup of raw carrots has over 4 times the recommended daily amount!
- Vitamin K1: important for proper blood coagulation and bone health
- B Vitamins: essential for the body to convert food into energy
- Potassium: can help with blood pressure control and regulates heartbeat
- Fiber: for a healthy digestive system, and to help you feel full longer
How to Choose & Store Carrots
Look for carrots that are firm, have a smooth skin, and are bright orange in color. Avoid carrots that are limp and no longer crisp. If carrots are turning black near the tops, they’re no longer fresh! Smaller carrots are generally younger, which means they’re more tender but less sweet. But, the largest and oldest carrots tend to be thicker and tougher in texture. For sweeter, more flavorful carrots, choose medium-sized carrots that taper at the end!
When you return from the store or market, clip your carrot greens to prevent moisture loss. Then, store unwashed carrots in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge. Raw carrots stored this way will last for 2-3 weeks! When you’re ready to eat or cook with your carrots, wash and scrub them to remove any soil or contaminants. Since non-organic winter root vegetables tend to have more pesticide residues than some other vegetables, you may want to peel the outer skin of your carrots.
How to Cook Carrots
- Steam: In a pot or in your microwave, steam carrots for a deliciously sweet, tender side dish.
- Roast: Toss carrot rounds and other cut veggies you enjoy with oil and your favorite seasonings for a quick-and-easy veggie roast. Or, toss your carrots with maple syrup, cinnamon, and a bit of orange juice for a sweeter treat!
- Slow cook: Turn carrots’ crispy crunch into a tender sweetness by cooking them low and slow in a soup, stew, or slow-cooker meal.
- Grate or puree: Raw, grated carrots make a great salad topping. Or, you can use grated carrots or carrot puree in baked goods like muffins, cakes, breads, or even pancakes! Grated carrots will add a bit of texture, while carrot puree can add natural sweetness and flavor.
- Bonus: Keep your carrot tops to add to a salad, dressing, dip, or pesto!
- Pairs well with: peas, corn, daikon, mushrooms, spinach, fennel, garlic, ginger, raisins, apples, coconut milk, walnuts, nutmeg, coriander, curry, paprika, cinnamon, rosemary, thyme, basil, rice, pasta, chicken, beef, just about anything
Recipes with Carrots
Radishes are one of the sassiest winter root vegetables, with a unique combination of spicy flavor and cool freshness. But, there are many types of radishes, with all sorts of different sizes, shapes, and colors. Most people are familiar with the small Red Globe radishes, which are a spring radishes. During the winter months, larger radishes are in season, like the Chinese white radish (a.k.a. daikon, meaning “long root” in Japanese). Daikon looks like a giant white carrot and has a peppery taste, but it’s generally far more mild than spring radishes.
Although daikon isn’t as well-known of a veggie, it’s worth giving a try because of its incredible nutrition One 7-inch daikon radish is only around 60 calories, with the same amount of vitamin C as an orange! You can munch on daikon raw for a crisp, juicy snack, or slice or grate it to add to a salad. Or, cut into large slices or strips and cook with other root vegetables. But, be sure not to cook daikon for too long because it will lose its flavor. Another popular daikon preparation is pickling the radishes to create a relish or homemade kimchi! If you can’t manage to find daikon where you live, try looking at an Asian market or your local farmer’s market.
Daikon Nutrition Highlights
- Vitamin C: just 1 average-sized daikon radish has more than the recommended daily amount of this powerful antioxidant!
- Fiber: keeps the digestive system healthy, prevents blood sugar spikes, and can even help with weight loss
- Potassium: an essential mineral that helps regulate heartbeat and blood pressure
- Copper: helps keep the connective tissue in our skin, blood vessels, and heart flexible and healthy
How to Choose & Store Daikon
Fresh daikon should have smooth, slightly-shiny skin that’s not cracked, knobby, or wrinkled. Choose daikon that feel firm when squeezed, with no soft spots or bruises. Daikon comes in many sizes, depending on when it was harvested. Larger daikon tend to be more fibrous and have a spongy texture. (Some can stretch as long as 18 inches!) Instead, look for smaller daikon—they’re generally less fibrous and less peppery. If you have a more mature daikon radish that’s longer than 8 inches, it should be cooked.
If they’re still attached, cut your daikon leaves off and store separately from the daikon radishes. Store daikon radishes in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge. They’ll last for about a week, but it’s best to use them soon after you buy them because they dry out quickly. Also, once daikon is cut, its smell will quickly fill your fridge so it’s best to eat it within a few days! When ready to eat or prepare your daikon, scrub the skin (and peel, if desired). Then, chop, slice, or cook as desired.
How to Cook with Daikon
- Raw: Chop or slice raw daikon to enjoy as a snack, or to freshen up tacos! Grated daikon also works perfectly in a homemade coleslaw.
- Braise: Sear daikon radishes in oil/butter and red wine vinegar, then cover and simmer at a lower temperature until tender. Or, include daikon in a slow-cooked dish like short ribs.
- Stir fry: Slice daikon and add to a stir fry to add freshness, crunch, and flavor!
- Pickled: Some Japanese and Korean chefs pickle daikon radishes to bring out their unique flavors! Daikon radishes are often pickled in Korea to make kimchi.
- Daikon radishes make a great substitute for and kind of radish, as well as turnips and other root vegetables in most recipes.
- Add chopped daikon rounds to a hearty winter stew! Or, cook it in a broth with other winter root vegetables and puree into a creamy soup.
- Bonus: Keep your daikon leaves and toss them in a salad with mixed greens or add them to a soup! But, be prepared for their potent spicy flavor.
- Pairs well with: root vegetables, cabbage, celery, onions, cucumber, garlic, ginger, apple, mango, salad greens, lemon, eggs, sesame oil/seeds, cumin, cayenne, vinegar, seafood, fresh or raw fish, poultry, beef, tofu
Recipes with Daikon
Fennel (a.k.a. sweet anise) has tall, green, celery-esque stalks growing from a white bulb that’s similar to an onion. Most people eat and cook with the bulb because it’s tender and mild in flavor. But, you can also eat the stalks and wispy fronds at the top of a fennel plant! Since fennel’s white bulb grows above the ground, fennel isn’t technically one of the winter root vegetables. But, fennel is a delicious winter veggie that pairs too perfectly with the underground crowd to be left out of this list.
Fennel is common in Mediterranean and Italian cuisine, but it’s a pretty weird veggie. It’s slightly sweet with a distinct licorice-like taste from the anethole compound, which has some pretty amazing nutritional benefits. Consuming anethole can aid in digestion, suppress inflammation, prevent blood clots, and even reduce the risk of some cancers! Plus, fennel is also loaded with vitamin C and minerals like potassium, magnesium, and copper.
Fennel Nutrition Highlights
- Anethole: acts as a natural anti-bacterial in the digestive system, an anti-inflammatory, a blood thinner, and may be cancer-preventative
- Flavonoids: a group of strong antioxidants that help to reverse free-radical damage
- Vitamin C: protects the body’s immune system and also acts as an antioxidant
- Fiber: aids in digestion, helps to clean the colon, and increases feelings of fullness
- Potassium: helps regulate heartbeat and lower blood pressure, decreasing heart attack risk
How to Choose & Store Fennel
When buying fennel, look for bulbs that are bright, white, firm, and unblemished. They should also feel heavier for their size. Choose fennel with smaller bulbs for a sweeter flavor and more tender texture. But, large fennel bulbs can also be surprisingly tender, especially if you peel off the outer layer. Where the bulb has been cut at the bottom there may be a trace of browning, but anything more than that means the fennel is on its way out. And, the cut ends of fennel stalks should look fresh, not dried out.
To store, loosely wrap fennel bulbs in a paper or plastic bag and store in your fridge’s vegetable crisper drawer for up to a week. But, it’s best to eat fennel early on while it’s the most flavorful! Be sure to keep fennel out of the colder spots of your fridge, like near the back of the shelves. Since fennel has a high water content, it can freeze easily and then lose its crispness once it thaws. When ready to prepare your fennel, cut off and discard the stalks (unless you intend to use them in a dish to add flavor). To prep the bulb, trim the bottom, peel off any wilting or browning layers, and then chop or slice as needed.
How to Cook with Fennel
- Raw: Fennel is crisp and refreshing when raw. Thinly slice for a crunchy addition to salads, or enjoy raw fennel on its own dressed in a bit of lemon juice and sea salt!
- Roast: Quarter a fennel bulb and add to a veggie roast, tossed with oil and seasonings. Younger, firmer fennel is best for roasting, while older, larger fennel tends to become quite leathery when roasted.
- Sauté: Add fennel slices to a pan with a oil or butter and a bit of minced garlic. Cook until tender and starting to brown.
- Fennel can add a deeper flavor to any soup or stew! Stir it into a soup of winter root vegetables and let them cook until tender and flavorful.
- You can also toss the fennel stalks and feathery leaves into a stew to add flavor.
- Pairs well with: root vegetables, garlic, onion, olives, tomatoes, lemon, oranges, apples, cheeses, cumin, dill, thyme, pasta, fatty fish like salmon and sardines, seafood, sausage, pork, chicken
Recipes with Fennel
Leeks are like scallions that hit the gym and got really buff. They’re long and cylindrical, with a small white bulb at the bottom and long green leaves at the top. Like scallions, the most-used parts of a leek are the white and lighter green areas closer to the bulb. Although leeks are in the same family as garlic and onions, they’re not technically a root vegetable because they grow above ground. But, they’re a staple winter ingredient and their flavor pairs perfectly with winter root vegetables!
Leeks taste like a milder onion that’s slightly sweet, making them delicious in soups, dips, or served on top of a baked potato. Larger leeks with a bigger, rounded bulb at the bottom tend to be too mature. They’ll have a sharper flavor and are more likely to have a tough, woody seed stalk in the center. If you give your leeks a light squeeze and feel that woody stalk inside, avoid them. But, if you can find younger, smaller leeks, they have the most delicate texture and best flavor!
Leeks Nutrition Highlights
- Kaempferol: a flavonoid in leeks that can help protect blood vessels from damage
- Vitamin K: just one average-sized leek can contain over 50% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin K, which helps to regulate blood flow and keeps our bones healthy
- Vitamin A: supports healthy eyes, as well as both red and white blood cell development
- Manganese: helps the body activate antioxidants that fight free-radical damage, as well as absorb essential nutrients from our food
- Iron: crucial for energy and muscle function because it helps our red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body
How to Choose & Store Leeks
Choose leeks with as much white and light green color on them as possible, and avoid leeks that are mostly dark green in color. The bulb should be clean, white, and fairly slender. The tastiest leeks are the smallest and slimmest! Fresh leeks have crisp, firm stalks and leaves that stand up stiff. Steer clear of limp leeks with wilted or yellowing leaves. If you can find leeks unpackaged with their roots and dark green leaves intact, those will last the longest!
To store, lightly wrap unwashed leeks in plastic to lock in their moisture and contain their odor. Then, place in your vegetable crisper drawer in the fridge and they can last up to 2 weeks. For cooked leeks, store in an airtight container in the fridge for about 2 days. When you’re ready to prepare your leeks, be sure to wash them to remove any dirt or sandy soil. First, cut off the root end and the very dark green ends. Then, cut the leek lengthwise into quarters and rinse in cold water, giving them a light rub to remove all the dirt. Chop or slice as desired!
How to Cook with Leeks
- Sauté: In oil or butter, sauté sliced leeks until translucent and slightly tender. Just be careful not to overcook leeks—they’ll turn into mush! Enjoy as an easy side dish, or cook with eggs into an omelet or scramble.
- Boil: Add leeks to soups and stews for a mild, slightly-sweet onion flavor. Potato and leek soup is a classic, comforting dish for a cold winter day!
- Bake or broil: Chop leeks and add to an oven-safe pan with other root veggies and a protein, like a filet of chicken or salmon. Bake or broil together and enjoy the delicious fusion of their flavors!
- Roast or caramelize: Leeks are a great companion to roast with winter root vegetables. Or, caramelize your leeks like you would onions and bring out their natural sweetness!
- Leeks can be cooked in pretty much the same ways as onions, and they can substitute for onions in most recipes.
- Pairs well with: potatoes, garlic, onions, root vegetables, mushrooms, red peppers, lemon, apples, eggs, cheeses, cream, chicken, ham, parsley, sage, thyme, basil, saffron, mustard, pasta, barley, bacon, seafood, chicken, duck
- Bonus: Though most people just toss the leek root end and dark green leaves, you can save these pieces to use in a homemade vegetable stock!
Recipes with Leeks
If you’re a fan of carrots, it’s worth giving their albino cousin a try: parsnips. Although they’re crunchy and sweet like carrots, parsnips have a harder texture and distinctive flavor. That warm, nutty, cinnamon-y taste makes them perfect in all kinds of winter dishes! And, much like carrots, parsnips are amazingly versatile. Toss them into a stew or casserole, roast them, steam and puree them, or try thinly slicing parsnips with a mandolin for a parsnip gratin!
However you choose to include parsnips in your winter meals, you really can’t go wrong! And, best of all, parsnips are BURSTING with healthy nutrients. They’re certainly a superfood, with the power to boost our immune system and keep our digestive system healthy. Plus, parsnips are a great food for pregnant women because of their high folate content! In particular, research shows that higher folate intake while pregnant can decrease the likelihood of birth defects. Luckily, just 1 average-sized parsnip provides around:
- one quarter of the folate we need in a day
- one quarter of the fiber we need in a day
- one third of the vitamin C we need in a day
Parsnips Nutrition Highlights
- Fiber: important for a healthy digestive system and helps us feel fuller for longer
- Vitamin C: for a healthy immune system and reversing free-radical damage
- Folate (Vitamin B9): important for the immune system and the production of new cells, as well as for pregnant women and their developing babies
- Mineral-Rich: parsnips are a good source of many important minerals, like manganese, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.
How to Choose & Store Parsnips
Fresh parsnips should have a firm flesh that’s a pale, yellow-white color with no soft spots. The whiter the parsnip is, the sweeter it will be! And, if the tops are still attached, make sure they’re fresh, green, and not wilted. Avoid parsnips that are limp, shriveled, or yellowing/browning around their core. If you see dark markings on the flesh, that’s usually a sign of decay or freeze-burn. Thicker, fatter parsnips will have a tougher texture and a woody core that needs to be cut out. But, you can avoid dealing with that woody core by choosing thinner, smaller parsnips (about 5-10 inches long).
If attached, remove parsnip greens before storing. But, don’t wash parsnips before storing! Wrap parsnips in a paper towel and place in a plastic bag in your crisper drawer. Raw parsnips stored this way can last up to 2 weeks. When ready to prepare, peel your parsnips and quarter them lengthwise if you need to remove the woody core. Cooked parsnips stored in an airtight container in the fridge will last around 3 days. You can also freeze parsnips—just cut into cubes, parboil or steam, and store in the freezer once cooled. Or, puree cooked parsnips and then freeze!
How to Cook Parsnips
- Raw: If you can find young, tender parsnips, thinly slice or grate them to add on top of a salad.
- Roast: Make the most of parsnips’ rich flavors by cutting them into cubes or rounds and roasting them! Enjoy as part of a veggie medley, or add roasted parsnips to winter soups and stews.
- Sauté: Cook parsnip cubes or rounds in a pan until tender and beginning to brown.
- Puree: Blend steamed/boiled parsnips into a smooth, creamy puree. Season to your taste, add a bit of milk or cream, and enjoy as a low-calorie mashed potato substitute! Or, use parsnips in a pureed vegetable soup to add thickness and creaminess.
- Thinly slice parsnips with a mandolin, toss with a bit of oil and seasonings, then bake in an oven for crunchy veggie chips!
- Pairs well with: potatoes, root vegetables, winter squash, garlic, ginger, citrus, apples, pears, cranberries, cheeses, cream, maple syrup, nutmeg, curry, paprika, pepper, thyme, rosemary, chicken, pork, salmon, seafood
Recipes with Parsnips
Like many of the other winter root vegetables, rutabagas have a surprising flavor that’s both slightly sweet and slightly peppery. They’re often called yellow turnips because of their similarities, except rutabagas are harder than turnips with a more subtle taste. Actually, rutabagas are a cross between turnips and cabbage, so rutabagas tend to be much larger than turnips—some grow as big as 3 to 5 pounds! But, the two are similar enough that you can eat and cook with rutabagas in the same ways as turnips.
Rutabagas are definitely real-deal winter root vegetables, but they also belong to another group of vegetables: the cruciferous family. Yes, rutabagas (and turnips) are related to veggies like cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, which means they’re incredibly nutritious! Research suggests that cruciferous vegetables have cancer-fighting and cancer-preventative properties because of their high concentrations of glucosinolates. And, our friend the rutabaga is chock full of ‘em, too—along with healthy doses of fiber and vitamin C!
Rutabaga Nutrition Highlights
- Glucosinolates: biologically active compounds that may lower risk of cancer and protect against cardiovascular diseases
- Vitamin C: bolsters the immune system and acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage by free radicals
- Potassium: strengthens heart health, improves nervous system, and helps regulate stress hormones
- Manganese: aids body in absorbing nutrients from food and can help control blood sugar spikes
- Magnesium: crucial to numerous vital bodily functions and studies suggest it may significantly reduce symptoms of depression
How to Choose & Store Rutabagas
Choose rutabagas that are heavy for their size, with no soft spots and no sprouts growing on the skin. The skin should be smooth and firm, with a yellow color that deepens to purple at the top of the rutabaga. But, if you see some natural crevices at the top of your rutabagas, that’s perfectly normal—they’re just scars left by the leaves. Avoid rutabagas with large roots because they’re usually very fibrous and difficult to eat. And, be sure to smell rutabagas when choosing them. If it has a stronger and more noticeable odor, it will have a more pungent flavor.
Remove the greens and store separately from your rutabagas. Store unwashed rutabagas in a cool, dark place that’s slightly damp. The vegetable crisper drawer in your fridge is a great choice, just be sure to place the rutabagas in a plastic bag that’s open or has some ventilation. This will prevent sprouting! Rutabagas stored this way can last 2 to 3 weeks. Or, you can store rutabagas in a root cellar or unheated garage for up to 6 months. When ready to prepare, scrub rutabagas under cold water, trim the ends, and peel the skin. Then, cut into desired pieces and remove the core if it’s turning brown.
How to Cook Rutabagas
- Raw: Shred or finely chop rutabagas and serve as a salad topping or sprinkle onto tacos.
- Puree: Cook rutabagas until tender, then puree them—either on their own, or with a mixture of other winter root vegetables!
- Boil: Add a kick of flavor to soups and stews by boiling or simmering rutabagas until tender.
- Sauté: Cook rutabagas in a pan for 10 to 15 minutes until they’re slightly browned and tender. Or, toss rutabagas into a zesty stir fry!
- You can cook rutabagas in the same way that you would turnips, and rutabagas can substitute for turnips in most recipes.
- Bonus: You can steam rutabaga greens and enjoy them with other leafy greens in a salad!
- Pairs well with: mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, ginger, apple, pear, milk, cream cheese, eggs, parmesan, butter, vinegar, mustard, brown sugar, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, paprika, dill, bay leaf, parsley, rosemary, thyme, bacon, ham, beef, poultry
Recipes with Rutabagas
Perhaps the most versatile and user-friendly of all the winter root vegetables, sweet potatoes have endless possibilities in the kitchen. They’re delicious roasted, baked, mashed, pureed, in baked goods, in pancakes—pretty much any way you can imagine (besides raw). But, even though sweet potatoes are generally included in the root vegetable family, they’re technically a tuber. While the root absorbs nutrients from the soul, the tuber forms at the base of a root and stores those nutrients. Luckily, all of those stored nutrients make sweet potatoes as healthy as they are tasty! They’re loaded with the antioxidant beta-carotene, vitamin C, and fiber. Plus, they’re low on the glycemic index with slow-digesting complex carbs!
Sweet potatoes often called or sold as “yams,” but yams are an entirely different veggie! Yams are also a tuber, but they’re starchy, dry, less sweet, and have a white flesh (sometimes purplish or reddish). Sweet potatoes are creamy, sweet, and have an orange flesh (and sometimes yellow, white, or orange-red). But, in many U.S. grocery stores, what’s called a “yam” is actually a soft sweet potato with reddish-brown skin and bright orange flesh. What’s labeled as a “sweet potato” tends to be a firm sweet potato with more golden skin and whiter flesh. Of course, each grocery store will be different, but pay attention to those labels! If you’re looking for sweet, fluffy, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, you might want to check out the “yams.”
Sweet Potato Nutrition Highlights
- Beta-carotene: free-radical fighting antioxidant that gives deep orange sweet potatoes their color, keeps our eyes healthy, and slows down aging
- Low glycemic index: won’t cause blood sugar spikes, but still hearty and filling
- Vitamin C: one medium sweet potato contains almost 40% of the recommended daily amount!
- Manganese: crucial for nutrient absorption and proper antioxidant function in our bodies
- Vitamin B6: helps produce neurotransmitters so the brain and nerve cells can communicate, and helps the body metabolize nutrients in food
How to Choose & Store Sweet Potatoes
Choose sweet potatoes that are firm, with tight, unwrinkled, even-colored skin. Avoid sweet potatoes with cuts, large dents, or soft spots you can feel. For a sweeter taste and creamier texture, choose the small- to medium-sized sweet potatoes. Larger sweet potatoes tend to be starchier. Sweet potatoes with orange or reddish-brown skin and darker orange flesh—often labeled as “yams”—are sweeter and creamier. (You might also see them labeled as Red Garnet or Jewel sweet potatoes.) Those with tan or purple skin are starchier like a russet potato, but with a nutty flavor.
Keep unwashed sweet potatoes in a cool, dry, dark place that’s outside of the fridge, like your pantry. If they’re stored in at a cool enough temperature (55F) with proper ventilation, they can last anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks. But, if stored at room temperature (68-70F), they’ll last about 1 week because their sugars tend to cause spoilage more quickly. Cooked sweet potatoes will last 5 days in an airtight container in the fridge. When ready to prepare, scrub each sweet potato (with a veggie brush, if you have it) in a bowl of cold water and dry with paper towels. Or, you can peel your sweet potatoes if you prefer, but the skin is tasty and nutritious!
How to Cook Sweet Potatoes
- Roast: Bring out the natural sweetness of these tubers by roasting them in the onion. Cube your sweet potatoes and toss with oil, savory herbs, and spices, or try some sweet flavorings like brown sugar and maple syrup!
- Bake: Baked sweet potatoes are a tasty alternative to traditional baked potatoes, and you can stuff them with chili or a veggie sauté for a heartier dinner. Plus, sliced sweet potatoes make great baked fries or veggie chips!
- Boil: For an easy cooking method, just boil unpeeled sweet potatoes whole until tender! Leave the skin on to lock in its nutrients and flavor.
- Mash/Puree: Make a sweet potato mash to substitute for mashed potatoes, or use that mash in pancake batter and all kinds of baked foods. Sweet potato puree can add flavor and is a simple substitute for canned pumpkin in most recipes. Plus, sweet potato purees beautifully in a soup for added creaminess!
- You can also freeze sweet potatoes! Boil until slightly tender, allow to cool, peel the skin, chop or slice as desired, and place in a freezer-safe bag. Remove as much air as possible from the bag and store in the freezer up to 1 year. Or, wrap cooled, baked sweet potatoes in foil and freeze them whole inside of a freezer-safe bag!
- Pairs well with: potatoes, carrots, onions, bell peppers, kale, ginger, oranges, apples, pineapple, feta cheese, goat cheese, parmesan, gruyere, cheddar, butter, eggs, coconut milk, pecans, cashews, walnuts, raisins, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, curry powder, cumin, coriander, red pepper, paprika, rosemary, thyme, salmon, chicken, beef, bacon
Recipes with Sweet Potatoes
There are many different varieties of turnips—purple-top, white, golden, yellow—all of which are at their best in cool weather. Purple-top turnips are one of the most popular kinds, with a sharper bite than rutabaga and a flavor that’s similar to a radish. But, if you can find younger, smaller purple-top turnips, they’ll be less bitter and more sweet. Yellow and white turnips are have brighter and sweeter flavors that are more mild. For those who can’t handle any bitterness, the white turnip tends to be the most mild in flavor. And, some varieties of white turnips are so sweet they can be eaten raw like an apple!
Turnips are also grown for their healthy, nutrient-rich leaves: turnip greens. If you find turnips with the greens still attached, enjoy the younger leaves raw in a salad, or cook older greens in the same way you would spinach or kale. And, the turnip roots are teeming with healthy nutrients all their own. Like rutabagas, broccoli, and cabbage, turnips are cruciferous vegetables—a.k.a. cancer-fighting superfoods. Getting more of them in our diets may help prevent cancer, as well as protect our heart health. Plus, you can count on turnips for loads of fiber, vitamin C, iron, and vitamin K in their leaves!
Turnip Nutrition Highlights
- Glucosinolates: compounds in cruciferous veggies that may fight and prevent cancer
- Vitamin C: crucial antioxidant for a healthy immune system and healthy skin
- Potassium: helps regulate heartbeat and blood pressure
- Vitamin K: turnip greens are an excellent source of vitamin K, which helps regulate inflammation in the body
- Antioxidants: turnip greens are also loaded with antioxidants that can fight free radicals in the body
How to Choose & Store Turnips
Look for turnips that are firm to the touch and heavy for their size. The skin shouldn’t have any soft or moist spots. If they’re attached, the leaves should be fresh and crisp, not wilting. For sweeter flavor, choose turnips that are small to medium sized. Large turnips will be tough with a woody taste and waxy texture.
First, remove turnip greens if they’re attached. Wash them, wrap in paper towels, and place in a plastic bag in the fridge. Place unwashed turnips in a separate plastic bag and store in the crisper drawer of your fridge for a few weeks. Or, you can store turnips in a dark, cool, dry place like a root cellar for several months. But, beware: turnips tend to get more bitter the longer they’re stored.
How to Cook Turnips
- Raw: Shave some white or golden turnip onto a salad as a fresh topping! Younger, smaller turnips are the best to eat raw
- Bake: Peel and thinly slice to make a cheesy turnip gratin with your favorite herbs! Or, thinly slice turnips to make baked veggie chips!
- Boil: When turnips are tender, mash for a creamy, hearty side dish. Or, add peeled and chopped turnips to a winter root vegetable stew!
- Roast: Bring out more of turnips’ natural sweetness and mellow their bitterness by roasting turnip wedges until tender and browning.
- Bonus: Keep your turnip greens if they’re attached to use in salads, or cook them down into a pasta dish or a stew like you would spinach!
- Pairs well with: root vegetables, potatoes, onion, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, apples, lemon, cheese, cream, cumin, coriander, cayenne, paprika, mustard, thyme, chives, sage, rice, chickpeas, ham, bacon, beef, salmon
Recipes with Turnips
Don’t forget about veggies during the winter! Make the most of the season by checking out the winter root vegetables at your local farmer’s market or grocery store. With the cold weather, many of them will be at their peak freshness and flavor. And, winter root vegetables are full of healthy nutrients to keep you well through the winter!
But, there’s more to winter than just root vegetables. There are MANY more winter seasonal vegetables out there that are worth trying!