The average North American consumes three and a half kilograms of carrots per year. The same cannot be said of other root vegetables: beets, rutabagas, parsnips and turnips.
The carrot is truly queen in the realm of beta-carotene–one medium-sized orange carrot, eaten raw, provides more than 250 per cent of the recommended daily intake (RDA). However, root veggies are all good general detoxifiers in addition to being a source of potassium, folic acid (also found in leafy vegetabls), dietary fibre and essential amino acids. They are at their best nutritionally when raw, so try grating root vegetables and adding to sandwiches, salads or as an edible garnish to cooked dishes.
Turnip and rutabagas, like all members of the brassica family, have anti-cancer, antibiotic, antiviral and antioxidant properties. Their greens help cleanse the blood of toxins and contain vitamins A and C and iron as well as up to 25 per cent of the calcium RDA for an adult female.
The rutabaga is actually a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. However, it’s larger than a turnip, has a bulbous, orangey-yellow root and a sweet flavor. Rutabagas are a good source of vitamins A, C, B1, B6, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium and help strengthen digestion. Look for firm, smooth rutabagas and avoid those which are light for their size or shriveled. Peel them before use. Fresh rutabagas have a pleasant, slightly sweet crunch when eaten raw. They can also be steamed, baked, boiled and mashed or added to stews and soups. Fortunately they store well.
The turnip is said to be a native of northern Eurasia. It is more perishable than its close relative the rutabaga and is generally white fleshed with a purple crown. Raw turnips help digestion and clean the teeth. When cooked they energize the stomach and intestines. They are high in vitamin C and sodium, necessary for proper blood pH and stomach, nerve and muscle functioning. Fresh, young turnips can be used raw like radishes, added to stews and soups or baked or roasted. Turnips combine well with thyme, savory, tarragon, rosemary, roasted garlic, leeks and other root vegetables.
The Noble Parsnip
Up to the Middle Ages the parsnip was the high starch vegetable of choice, until the blander and more versatile potato replaced it. The noble parsnips could be harvested wild or cultivated. They are particularly good for the kidneys, spleen, stomach and liver and are high in silica, which is essential for healthy bones, skin and hair and helps to combat the effects of aluminum on the body. Parsnips are best firm and smooth with the small to medium sized generally having the best flavor. Their sweet, nutty flavor makes them delicious on their own with a touch of butter, salt and pepper. They can be steamed, baked, roasted or saut? and can replace a portion of carrots in recipes. Thin slices or shreds of raw parsnip add texture and a bit of zing to salads.
The ancient Romans first encountered beets when they conquered the Greeks. They took the beet plant and seeds away with them after observing their excellent storage and food qualities. Now table beets are found throughout the world and generally come in a deep crimson-red color with rich green leaves. They are a good blood tonic and cleanser. They also help detoxify the liver and gallbladder, cleanse the bowel and lubricate the intestines.
Red beets are a good source of sodium, vitamin C, magnesium, iron and manganese. Raw, grated beet root is a pleasant addition to a salad (as are beet greens) and is a good source of calcium, vitamin A and iron. Freshly cooked red beet roots have a much superior taste to their canned counterpart. They can be roasted, steamed, grilled or baked or added to stews and soups, though they will dramatically affect the color of the dish. Beet greens can be steamed or pickled, like the roots.
Red beets are complemented by all vinegars and members of the citrus family, butter, freshly pressed oil (olive, flax, hemp, filbert), mustard oil, parsley, dill, tarragon, cilantro, cumin, curry, onions, apples and horseradish. But don’t forget to savor the wondrous flavor of fresh beets on their own or very simply dressed.
Hail The Queenly Carrot
And last, but certainly not least is our perennial favorite–the carrot. A native of Afghanistan, for most of its history the carrot has not been the rich orange so popular in North America. Few realize that it comes in an amazing array of colors from red and purple to yellow and even white. Carrots are one of the best detoxifiers, cleansing, alkalizing, nourishing and stimulating almost every system in the body. They depress harmful cholesterol and contain an essential oil which kills parasites and unhealthy intestinal bacteria.
Carrots are easily digested and so their benefits are readily available. In addition to high quantities of beta-carotene, they are high in vitamins B1, B3, B6 and C, as well as phosphorus, magnesium and silicon, which aids in the absorption of calcium. Young, fresh carrot greens can be added to salads or soups.
Carrot roots are at their best eaten fresh and raw. However, they can be juiced, baked, steamed, saut?, cooked, mashed and added to souffl?and custards or shredded and added to baking. They combine well with butter, olive oil, toasted sesame or peanut oils, thyme, chervil, lovage, dill, cumin, ginger, mint, mustard, honey or maple syrup and all other root vegetables–the root of your nutrition regimen.