Whose idea was it to take the first bite out of an ugly turnip? Did starvation incite some desperate cave man to brush the clumps of dirt off of a rutabaga and chomp into its starchy flesh? And from there was there a wild frenzy started to dig up every plant on the hillsides to see what other misshapen, dirty but edible finds lay underground? Most root vegetables confuse us by their looks and make us pause before we would consider putting them on our plates. Other than potatoes and carrots, root vegetables don’t get the prime spots in the grocery store aisle. But these underground storehouses of energy and nutrition can be a delight to dress up any meal if prepared properly.

In the wintertime we crave hearty stews and soups to warm us and fill us up. We think of these broths primarily as dishes that are rich in proteins and fats. But when prepared with the bounty of root vegetables available and in season during the cold months, we are getting a lot of other great nutrition. Surprisingly many root vegetables including potatoes, rutabagas and parsnips are high sources of vitamin C, beta carotene and potassium.

You know the story of the carrot. We’ve long known that it is a high source of beta carotene. It is the undisputed superstar of root vegetables. And potatoes have long been the best supporting actor on the plates of western dinner tables. But there are so many other delicious and interesting root vegetables all packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals that stave off all of our modern diseases. And we won’t mention onions and garlic here as perhaps they are more for flavoring the food. But of course their nutritional values are also very high so don’t discount them in your vitamin and mineral counts, especially the powerful garlic. They are both superfoods that reduce inflammation and boost the immune system.

Even the potato has gotten a bad rap, with its high carbohydrate count foiling our diets. Few realize that they are packed with Vitamin C and more potassium than bananas. So as long as you leave off the butter, salt and avoid the deep fried versions in the fast food line, potatoes can provide more than just a filler food.

Let’s consider the other plentiful cast of characters that inhabit the underground world of edible roots. Of course we must mention the beet, probably the next best known star to rise up out of the dirt. And then the sweet potato, which seems to get ignored outside of the southern United States until Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around. But there are parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, celery root, rutabagas, and turnips that get confined as wall flowers in the produce aisle. Not many want to take them out on the dance floor.

In their latest issue, Cooking Light magazine has a great list of recipes for all kinds of root and winter vegetables that will enliven your dinner plates all year round. 

-- Produce Buzz Staff

They are ugly and boring. Dirt clings to them and their deformities abound. Next to beautiful strawberries or a shiny apple they will get no notice. But these ugly, misshapen inhabitants of the underground, heroes of healthy eating known as root vegetables, will brighten up a cold winter's night meal.

Roots of Nutrition

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