Sweet, sweet autumn roots
Leaves are falling. Temperatures are falling. Sweet autumn roots are rising, dug from fertile soil.
Carrots. Beets. Parsnips. Sweet potatoes. Sure, not all roots are sweet — think celeriac, leeks, turnips, radishes, rutabaga, potatoes and onions – but sweet roots are delectable and nutritious. All are rich in many nutrients and a good source of carbohydrates as well as fiber (3 grams per serving in carrots and beets, 5 grams in parsnips).
The sweetest vegetable is the beet, with 8 grams of sugar in one serving of two small beets. Beets also contain large amounts of fiber, potassium, manganese, folic acid and vitamins A and C. The red color comes from betacyanin, a strong antioxidant that protects against colon cancer. Other flavonoids and antioxidants in beets help ward off heart disease.
Carrots come in second in sugar content; a half-cup serving of cooked carrots has 2.5 grams of sugar. They’re one of our most popular root veggies, and are famous for their vitamin A content (beta carotene) — one serving has 270% of your daily needs! This vitamin is important for vision as well as skin. Like beets, carrots also contain lots of fiber, and vitamins C, B, D, and E. They’re a good source of calcium, potassium, magnesium and silicon, which aids in calcium metabolism and strengthens connective tissues.
Often known as the white carrot, parsnips are a less-common sweet root. Yet, before the arrival of potatoes from the New World, sweet, nutrient-dense parsnips were Europe’s favorite winter root. Starchy and smooth like potatoes but sweet and delicate like carrots, parsnips contain 6 grams of sugar and 50 calories per half-cup serving. They’re packed with many essential vitamins and minerals: potassium, phosphorus, iron, calcium, folic acid, vitamin A and C. They contain ample fiber and have diuretic properties, so they’re good for the stomach, bowels, and kidneys.
Sweet potatoes contain about 3 grams of sugar in a half-cup serving. A nutritional powerhouse, they are a good source of important antioxidants and phytonutrients that help protect against heart disease and cancer. They have more vitamin A than carrots and more vitamin C than tomatoes (though some of that is lost in cooking). Just one 4-ounce serving of baked sweet potato has double the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. They’re also a good source of vitamin E and B6. These high quality, complex carbohydrates are relatively low in calories, high in fiber, and rich in minerals like potassium, iron, calcium, manganese and copper.
Before refrigeration, these root vegetables were stored in root cellars for winter use, along with turnips, celeriac and onions.
Sweet roots are incredibly versatile and perfect for many autumn meals. They can be roasted, stir-fried, cooked in the microwave, steamed or boiled. Add them to savory dishes, casseroles, skillets, soups and salads.
Sweet Potato Hash
Sweet roots and pungent greens complement each other in this dish.
1 Tablespoon oil
1 large or 2 small onions
2 links (1/2 pound) sweet sausage
1/2 cup shredded sweet potato
1 cup shredded parsnip
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1 bunch greens (I used kale; collards, chard or spinach will also work)
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup grated cheese
Heat oil in large skillet. Add sausage and peeled, diced onion; cook 5 minutes until sausage browns and onion is translucent. Grate the roots and chop the greens. Peel and mince the garlic. Add to the skillet, stir, sprinkle with salt, and cover. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking until vegetables are tender. You can moisten a bit with broth or water, if needed.
Season with soy sauce; beat egg with cheese, stir in, and cook a couple minutes longer. Serve hot, with salad and crusty bread.
Note: You can add beets, but they will turn everything pink.
This Jewish dish is often served during the fall holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot. Everything is approximate; the amounts listed are estimates and can be easily adapted.
2 large onions or leeks
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound carrots
1 pound sweet potatoes
1 pound parsnips
1 pound golden beets (red beets can be used but will turn everything pink)
4 ounces raisins or pitted prunes
2 apples, peeled and diced
½ cup white wine
½ cup apple or orange juice
2 – 4 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
Peel and dice the onions fine. Set aside.
In Dutch oven or large skillet, melt the butter. Add onions, sprinkle with salt, cover and saute over low heat until soft but not mushy, 3 – 5 minutes.
Wash and slice the carrots and parsnips. Peel and dice the sweet potatoes. Peel, core, and dice apples; sprinkle with lemon juice to keep from browning.
Butter a large casserole or baking dish. Add onions, vegetables and fruit; stir to combine.
Pour in wine, orange juice and honey. Cover and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour, or until vegetables are tender and sauce is thick.
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Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at email@example.com or on Facebook at Words Are My World.