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Get Back to Your Roots
from Deena's "Nutritional Guidelines" Booklet

Get Back to Your Roots
Monday, 05 January 2004

Most root vegetables are available all the year round, but during winter they really come into their own. They're perfect for making hearty warming soups, casseroles and stews, and for accompanying roast meats.

Lots of us get stuck in a rut, eating just a small selection of vegetables. So it's great to explore some varieties we might not normally eat. Root vegetables are probably the most versatile of all and often quite cheap. Plus, they're packed with vitamins and minerals, as well as taste.

Carrots are the most popular vegetable in the country, with 75% people saying they buy fresh carrots regularly (Mintel, Market Intelligence, May 2001). If you were told as a child that eating carrots would help you see in the dark, this isn't entirely an old wives' tale. Carrots are a good source of beta carotene, which our bodies turn into vitamin A, and vitamin A is important for night vision.

Carrots can be boiled, baked, fried, mashed, juiced, grated into salads or made into puddings, cakes, pies, croquettes, or soufflés. They're also delicious eaten raw, but cooking helps to break down the tough membranes of the plant, which makes some of the nutrients easier for our bodies to absorb.

And there are lots of other tasty root vegetables you can try. For example, parsnips are delicious either roasted, or boiled and mashed with a pinch of mace or nutmeg. When you're buying parsnips, make sure they're smooth and firm. Avoid the soft or shriveled ones, because they can be tough and stringy.

Turnips have a subtle peppery flavor and a purple or green and white skin. Try steaming young turnips until tender and grating them into a salad, or peel, dice and boil older turnips. Turnip mash can be delicious mixed with other mashed vegetables, such as parsnips, carrots or potatoes.

And try adding diced swede to casseroles, for a pleasant nutty flavor.

Celeriac is a type of celery with a knobbly root that looks a bit like a turnip. It tastes similar to celery and goes well with fish and meat. Try boiling and mashing celeriac and mixing it with mashed potato. You can also eat celeriac raw, but remember to peel it first because the skin is very stringy.

Beetroot is a colorful, sweet root vegetable. It's often pickled and added to salads. But it can also be fried, baked in its skin, hollowed out and stuffed with a savoury filling, or used to make borscht, the traditional Russian and Polish soup. When you're cooking fresh beetroot, leave the skin on and then peel it off when it's cooked. You can also eat the leaves.
Radishes come in all shapes, sizes and colors, though it's normally the small red and white radishes that we see in the shops. Like beetroot, radishes are usually eaten raw in salads. But they also taste good in stews, curries and casseroles, or sliced and gently fried until almost transparent.

Jerusalem artichokes aren't actually artichokes. They're root vegetables from the same family of plants as the sunflower. They taste similar to artichokes, hence the name, and they can be boiled, mashed, roasted or grated raw into salads. Try mixing mashed Jerusalem artichokes with mashed potato, carrot or turnip. They are also good for making soup.

Sweet potatoes are edible roots, white or orange, that can be cooked in all the same ways as potatoes. They can also be used to make desserts such as sweet potato pie. Sweet potatoes contain vitamin C and the orange variety is an excellent source of beta carotene.

Cassava roots can also be prepared like potatoes. They can be peeled and boiled, baked, or fried. There are two main varieties, bitter and sweet. The bitter variety is poisonous when raw and is used mostly for making tapioca. The sweet variety is more commonly used in cooking.

Like potatoes, cassava yams and plantain don't count towards our five daily portions of fruit and vegetables when they're eaten as a starchy food in the place of rice, pasta or bread. But they're still a healthy choice, because we need starch to give us energy and they also contain fiber and other nutrients. Sweet potatoes and other root vegetables all count towards our daily fruit and vegetable portions because they're usually eaten as well as a starchy food.

For a healthier option, try to avoid adding butter, rich sauces or lots of oil to vegetables, because this will make them much higher in fat. And don't forget that we should aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg each day. A portion is roughly three heaped tablespoons of vegetables. It's better to eat as wide a variety of fruit and veg as you can, because this helps you get a range of nutrients. So try out some different root vegetables today!

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