Expand your root vegetable repertoire with this nutritious winter treat.
The depths of winter don’t exactly bring enthusiasm for cooking. The juicy stone fruits and perfectly ripe tomatoes disappeared once the days grew shorter, and the turkey-filled excitement of the holidays came and went. It’s times like these when you need to dig deeper for cooking inspiration. Fortunately, there are delicious foods just below the surface of the earth. This winter, try rutabagas, a versatile and overlooked vegetable.
First discovered in Scandinavia, rutabaga they are hardy tubers that are probably a hybrid between a turnip and a cabbage. They are sometimes called Swedish turnips, or Swedes for short, a nod to their Scandinavian origins. Although related to the turnip, rutabagas have a different flavor profile: they are sweeter and lack the same bitter, pungent taste. Rutabagas also have golden yellow flesh instead of a white interior.
Rutabagas like cool weather, as their sweet flavor is enhanced by exposure to frost. The vegetable is also well suited to storage in cool cellars, which made it a reliable food source during the winter months before the invention of refrigeration. You’ll find root vegetables in season from November, when they are harvestedtill March.
Rutabaga Nutrition Facts
Rutabagas are lower in carbohydrates than other starchy vegetables like potatoes or squash. In factThey have about half the carbohydrates per serving of potatoes and are a good source of fiber. Fibrous foods allow a slower release of sugars. This reduces large spikes in blood sugar levels, which helps control hunger hormones and prevents the development of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease over time. In addition, they are high in important nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium and magnesium, which play a role in immune function and nerve transmission.
Like other members of the brassica familysuch as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage, rutabagas contain bioactive compounds called glucosinolates. As antioxidants, glucosinolates block the action of carcinogens and eliminate pesky free radicals that can damage cells. Glucosinolates also fight inflammation in the body by triggering a cascade of activity, including activating detoxification enzymes in the liver and triggering immune functions, all of which lower the risk of developing cancer and other chronic diseases. Some glucosinolates are even capable of limiting and preventing tumor growth. Long story short, eat your brassicas! They are good for you.
(Related: What are the health benefits of mushrooms?)
What to look for when buying rutabaga
Rutabagas have a craggy surface, but when shopping, look for ones with an intact skin and firm feel. Avoid any that are woody or dull looking. Rutabaga skins are often given a waxy coating (removed when you peel the vegetable) to help keep them longer, so don’t be alarmed if they feel a little sticky at the grocery store. they keep up to three months when stored in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator.
How to cook rutabaga
An easy substitute for other starches, rutabagas can be used anywhere as a potato. Cut them into sticks or wedges and roast until crispy. Boil them and “mix and mash” them with other root vegetables like squash and sweet potatoes to create a delicious and healthy alternative to mashed potatoes. Peel and grate rutabagas to create a low-carb version of latkes or fritters. If you’re craving something sweet, mix shredded rutabagas into muffins to add fiber and moisture. Serve rutabagas as a side dish with steak, pork, or lamb—the vitamin C in rutabagas it will help you absorb the meat iron more effectively.
Try using them in pureed soups to add silkiness and body without the milk or cream. And rutabagas can go beyond your standard root vegetable: They also work exceptionally well as vegetarian noodles made with a spiralizer, where their texture is perfect for creating tender, al dente strands that not turn to mush like other vegetables (ahem, zucchini). With a little creativity, rutabagas quickly become a workhorse in the kitchen. This winter, steer clear of potatoes and carrots and dig into some of the tougher-looking tubers and roots—they deserve love and a place on your table, too.
Laura Jeha is a registered dietitian, nutrition counselor, and recipe developer. Learn more at ahealthyappetite.ca.
Next: Get the recipe for Pan-fried shepherd’s pie with rutabaga purée.