As the days get shorter, and the evenings get colder, there’s nothing more comforting than a warm oven wafting wonderful scents of a home-cooked dinner. The crisper air helps many root vegetables reach the peak of their flavor. We are all familiar with carrots, beets, turnips, and potatoes, but there are many more varieties to explore. Carrot sticks are a stand-by of school lunch bags and party vegetable trays. More adventurous people will add tender young turnip slices to vegetable platters and grated or julienned fresh beets to their salads.
The Culver City farmers markets have a wide selection of these familiar standbys, and a cornucopia of less familiar root vegetables. Parsnips, in particular, are undergoing a well-deserved revival. It’s not surprising that parsnips look a lot like pale carrots; they are closely related. You may be surprised to know that parsnips are nutritionally superior to their more familiar relatives in a number of important respects. Richer in vitamins and minerals than carrots, they are particularly rich in potassium (600 mg per 100 g.) and a good source of dietary fiber.
Some root vegetables, like the rutabega (known as “swede” in most of Europe), radish and turnip, can have a slightly sharp or bitter taste. They have developed this flavor natural defense against herbivores by using substances derived from glucosinolates. Glucosinoles in small amounts have been found to protect against the development of certain cancers in animal studies. Luckily for those of us who prefer less sharpness in our vegetables, oven roasting root vegetables helps bring out their natural sugars.
Oven roasting root vegetables involves very little preparation time, and yields pleasing (and tasty) results. First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a large cookie sheet. Take a variety of root vegetables (carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, celeriac, and/or radishes). Peel the tougher vegetables (parsnips, rutabagas, celeriac and larger beets); the others can be roasted with or without their skins according to individual preference. Cut the vegetables into cubes, wedges or thick french-fry shapes. Place them on the prepared cookie sheet. You can add garlic cloves or quartered onions if desired. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables, add herbs of your choice (fresh rosemary is wonderful) and salt and pepper to taste. Toss mixture to make sure vegetables are evenly coated, and spread out to form a single layer. Bake for 20 minutes, remove from oven, stir, and return to oven to cook until they are tender and lightly browned around the edges (approximately 10-20 more minutes). Adjust seasonings and serve hot.
A combination of root vegetables added to meat or pulses like lentils makes a satisfying main dish. Try one of these recipes for a vegan root vegetable and lentil casserole and a hearty beef pot pie for a satisfying dinner.
Root Vegetable and Lentil Casserole
1 T. canola oil
2 leeks sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 celery stalks, trimmed, sliced diagonally into 1 inch slices
2 carrots, peeled, sliced diagonally into 1 inch slices
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 yellow sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 small rutabaga or 1 medium turnip (approximately 8 ounces), peeled and diced
8 ounces uncooked lentils
1 lb. tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (or 1-14 oz. can tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved)
1 T. fresh thyme, chopped, or 1 1/2 tsp. dried
1 T. fresh marjoram, chopped, or 1 1/2 tsp. dried
4 cups vegetable stock
3 T. cold water
1 T. cornstarch
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Wash the vegetables. Trim the celery and peel the root vegetables, reserving the peels and trimmings. Put peels and trimmings in pot with 4-5 cups of lightly salted water. Cook over medium heat while you are slicing and dicing the vegetables. Remove from heat, strain, and discard peelings and trimmings. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in an oven-proof casserole over moderate heat. Add the leeks, garlic, celery and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Next, add the vegetables, lentils, herbs, and 4 cups of vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and bring to a boil , stirring occasionally. Cover the casserole and place in oven. Bake for 50 minutes, or until vegetables and lentils are cooked and tender. Check the casserole one or two times while baking, stirring mixture to make sure it is evenly cooked. Remove from oven when ingredients are tender, and place on stove over medium heat. Put 3 tablespoons cold water in bowl and blend with 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Stir cornstarch-water mixture into casserole Continue stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Simmer gently for two minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve warm. (Adopted from Hermes House’s Vegetarian cookbook.)
Easy Homemade Beef Pot Pie
1lb. leftover roast beef, cubed (or 1 lb. sirloin steak, cubed)
1-14 oz. can beef broth
3 large carrots, cubed
1 onion diced
1 c. green peas, thawed if frozen
3 T. cornstarch
1/3 c. water or 1/3 c red wine
2 -9-inch refrigerator pie crusts
If you are using left-over beef, skip this step. If you are using cubed sirloin, put a separate saucepan over medium high heat. Place the cubes in it, and brown on all sides. Pour in enough water to almost cover the meat, bring to boil, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer until tender. (If you have time, you can continue to simmer until beef is tender enough to pull apart with a fork for a southern-style beef pot pie.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the beef broth, carrots, onions and potatoes. Cook over medium high heat until almost tender (about 15 to 20 minutes). When the carrots, onions and potatoes are done, transfer to a large mixing bowl and combine with the beef and peas. Reserve the liquid in the saucepan. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1/3 cup of water and pour this into the reserved beef broth. Bring to a simmer while stirring constantly; reduce heat. Cook for 5 minutes. Following package directions, line a 9-inch pie plate with one of the pie shells. Spoon the beef mixture into the pie crust, and pour the gravy on top. Cover with remaining pie crust, crimping the edges with the prongs of a fork or side of a knife. Bake for 25 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
(Adopted for a friend with left-over beef from two different versions of beef pot pie recipes found on the internet. Talk about inter-ethnic adoption!)
The Culver City farmers markets are held on Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Main Street between Culver and Venice Blvds, and on Saturday fron 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the northeast corner of the Westfield Culver City parking lot at Hannum and Slauson.
Katie Malich was converted to roasted vegetables by a friend who served a veritable rainbow of whole roasted carrots drizzled with a little bit of olive oil. Carrots come in a variety of colors, from pale white to deep purple, and look spectacular when served together on a large platter.