We love root vegetables. They’re versatile, full of nutritional goodness, and they keep well without any special treatment, which is really nice when you live in Ohio, and you can’t grow anything for half the year.
I’m sure just about anybody who has ever gardened has tossed a few carrot seeds in the ground, grown some potatoes, or maybe even a handful of radishes. These are all nice basics, but the world of root vegetables goes much, much deeper…
When planting, keep in mind that all root vegetables wouldn’t mind an extra dose of phosphorus, and like any other plant, benefit from a nice loose soil rich in organic matter. I’m constantly growing new things, and I’ve tried my fair share of roots, so if you’re looking to dig beyond carrots and potatoes, here are a few of my favorite uncommon root vegetables.
Beets scare a lot of people off, but there’s nothing to be afraid of. Beets like a little boron (borax), but they’re easy to grow and their flavor is unmistakable. Roast them, use them in a salad, or turn them into a soup. And of course, don’t forget to include their greens in your recipes – they contain even more goodness!
If you’ve had radishes, you’ve tasted turnips as well. Sort of. They have a similar peppery flavor, but turnips aren’t as spicy as radishes. You can certainly use them in place of radishes, but they’re generally cooked – also roasted, mashed up with potatoes, or try them in a gratin.
Celeriac (Celery Root)
As you could probably guess from the name, celeriac is a relative of the celery you’ll find in the store. As such, the root has a distinct, mild celery flavor that lends itself to all kinds of preparations. Puree it into a soup, mash it alone or with other root vegetables, or roast it (notice a theme? Almost all root vegetables are great for roasting).
These are ugly little guys, with lots of small, hairy roots. To prepare, your best bet is to rinse it off as well as you can, trim off all the smaller roots, then scrub, because there will be dirt in nooks and crannies that you didn’t get before. Some people peel the whole thing, but the skin doesn’t bother me if it’s not too thick. These also require little extra care and grow easily.
These distant carrot relatives look like that – jumbo, white carrots. They have a faint carrot smell, and the flavor is like a carrot, just a little less refined and more earthy. We’ve mashed them, roasted them, and put them into a root vegetable gratin. Parsnips are generally pretty versatile, but may need a little more prep than carrots – if they get too big, the core may become woody and is pretty inedible. Germination is also a little slower than many other vegetables (up to a few weeks), so keep them moist and be patient.
Salsify is a skinny little root – not as productive as the others (I like my roots to be bulkier), but warrants a spot in the garden. It’s also known as the oyster plant, due to its slightly briny flavor. I can confirm that they do, in fact, remind me of mild oysters, which opens up new possibilities. This was the first year I’ve grown them, so we haven’t used them in much, but they can be sautéed, turned into fritters, or made into a soup. They can, of course, be roasted, but they’re small, so it may not work as well with the larger vegetables.
When you’re thinking about next year’s garden (if you haven’t already), consider adding a few more of these uncommon root vegetables to your plot. They’ll reward you with good production, good eating, and last longer into winter than just about any other vegetable you grow!