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Back to your roots: 9 healthful veggies 3/12
(This article is adapted from the March 2012 ShopSmart magazine.)

Root vegetables are heavy on nutrients, light on the wallet, and versatile. They are as tasty eaten raw in salads as they are mashed like potatoes. So get acquainted (or re-acquainted) with your roots.

Health benefits

Eating root vegetables that contain high levels of the nutrient alpha-carotene may significantly lower your risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and other diseases, according to a March 2011 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

In the long-term study, researchers compared blood levels of alpha-carotene from 15,318 U.S. adults age 20 and older. After roughly 14 years, researchers found that 3,810 of the participants had died from various causes, including heart disease, stroke, cancers, and chronic lower respiratory disease. But participants in this study with higher blood levels of alpha-carotene had a significantly lower risk of death from all causes.

If you haven’t heard of alpha-carotene, you’re likely more familiar with its more popular relatives, beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene. Previous studies have linked these carotenoids—from foods, not supplements—to a reduced risk of a wide range of diseases, including age-related macular degeneration, breast and colon cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Organic and fresh is best

Daikon Photo courtesy: capl@washjeff.edu
After harvesting, root vegetables can last for one to three weeks, depending on the type. To prolong their life, look for fresh roots that are firm, without cracks or soft spots, and crisp green leaves. Avoid any that are wrinkled or light for their size; their fleshy insides might be pithy.

At home remove green tops; place vegetables in a perforated plastic bag, refrigerate, and use within a day or two. Keep unwashed veggies in a separate plastic bag in the crisper drawer.

If you can find USDA certified organic root vegetables, go for those. It means they have been grown without pesticides in soil where the roots would not be exposed to heavy metals or other toxics. To find a local farmer’s market near you, visit local harvest.org.

Beets
What to look for: The round, smooth orbs come in many colors (garnet, golden, and striped)and sizes (from tiny to grapefuit-sized).
How to serve: Try them roasted, steamed, or grated raw into salads. Their earthy sweetness pairs really well with goat cheese.
Chef’s tip: Chef Shawn McClain of Sage Restaurant in Las Vegas sautés the greens. “They have a Swiss chard-like flavor,” he says.
Carrots
What to look for: Bright, smooth, orange skin and vibrant greens are signs of freshness in carrots.
How to serve: Their sweeet earthiness is enhanced by baking, sautéing, steaming, and juicing. They marry well with ginger, cumin, and fresh herbs, like dill and cilantro.
Chef’s tip: Chef Cathy Thomas, author of Melissa’s Great Book of Produce, gives carrot soup a Thai twist by adding fresh, chopped chilis and a splash of coconut milk.
Celery Root
What to look for: Also called celeriac, it has a lopsided shape and a knotty, rough surface.
How to serve: Slice thinly into salads or stir into stews, stocks, and risotto. It has the flavor of celery without the stringiness.
Chef’s tips: For easier peeling, pick those with fewer bumps, Chef Thomas says. And follow the contour of the veggie when cutting off skin.
Daikon
What to look for: This Asian radish is known for its smooth, white skin and carrot-like shape.
How to serve: The white flesh has lots of crunch and peppery bite. Slice daikons into a salad or use as garnish.
Chef’s tip: For an alternative to crostini, Laura McIntosh, host of the syndicated TV series “Bringing It Home,” slices peeled daikon and tops it with diced avocado tossed in soy sauce and sesame oil.
Jicama (pronounced HICK-a-ma)
What to look for: This large, turnip-shaped root has a thin brown skin.
How to serve: Subtly sweet and nutty, raw jicama can punch up crudites; you can also steam and mash it. Just be sure to peel it before serving.
Chef’s tip: Jicama is great with Mexican seasonings, like cilantro and chilis, says Laura McIntosh. For a low-cal snack, top raw slices with lime juice, salt, and chili powder.
Parsnips
What to look for: Long and tapered like a carrot, they have creamy white skin and a knobby shape.
How to serve: The sweet, nutty flavor takes to glazing, like carrots. They’re also great mashed into potatoes and pureed into soups.
Chef’s tip: For a tasty, crunchy snack, Chef McClain deep fries paper-thin slices of parsnips to munch like potato chips.
Radishes
What to look for: The common radish is red, small, and round. Other varieties include the bi-colored French breakfast radish and the long, white icicle radish.
How to serve: Serve them French-style raw, with butter and coarse sea salt. (Sounds strange but tastes great!)
Chef’s tip: Chef Thomas cuts stunning watermelon radishes--pale green with a fuchsia interior--into wedges to serve with party dips.
Rutabagas
What to look for: Larger and rounder than their turnip cousins, rutabagas have a purplish skin but pale-yellow flesh. Pungent and peppery, they have an underlying sweetness and a dense, potato-like texture.
How to serve: They can be steamed, roasted, stewed, or pickled.
Chef’s tip: Chef McClain serves mashed rutabagas with cinnamon to complement hearty, slow-cooked short ribs or pot roast.
Turnips
What to look for: Squat and rounded, turnips have yellowish skin ringed with purple.
How to serve: Turnips’ pungent bite is a great match for rich, roasted meats and cream sauces. They are also delicious stuffed and baked. The nippy leaves can be prepared like spinach.
Chef’s tip: To mellow the bite, Chef McClain stirs sweet ingredients, like honey, orange juice, and dried dates, into sautéed or braised turnips.
Related links

5 vegetables that deserve a second chance. 7/11

25 healthy and delicious food bargains. 3/11

Micronutrient Information Center, Oregon State University: Carotinoids.
 
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