Eat Your Greens: How to Handle Tricky Vegetables – From Bbc Green

Eat Your Greens: How to Handle Tricky Vegetables – From Bbc Green

Some vegetables can be tough customers, admits Caspar van Vark. But with a little imagination, you can turn a hard tuber into a fabulous seasonal dish

Not all seasons are equal. The autumn months, for example, are a happy time for the cook. There are still some late raspberries and soft purple figs to eat with goat’s cheese or cured ham. Pumpkins appear in every size and shape, and there are crisp apples bursting with juice.

There’s a certain satisfaction to eating with the rhythm of the planet and catching things at their best. But the romance of seasonal eating starts to wane a bit once autumn has turned to winter. Sit at mother nature’s table and you have to eat what she serves.

Out go the vine-ripened tomatoes and golden ears of corn – instead, we are faced with muddy celeriacs, swedes and turnips. Even the most determined seasonal eaters will feel their heart sink when they open their food box and find yet another spooky, alien-looking root vegetable.

Eat ugly food

The easiest solution is to put the kohl rabi in the bottom of the fridge, wait for it go off and then throw it away. We’ve all done it, but there’s no need – all of these winter vegetables will reward you if you make a tiny bit of effort.

Take the Jerusalem artichoke – it sounds so exotic, but it looks like ginger and is the thing you usually find rattling around in your organic box after you’ve taken everything else out. Not only is this one ugly tuber, it also has a reputation for giving people flatulence!

But give it a chance – the Jerusalem artichoke has a good nutty flavour and really comes into its own if you peel it, slice it thinly and bake it with cream, like you would potato dauphinoise. It’s also a great source of iron, vitamin C, phosphorous and potassium.

To cut down on the windy effects, parboil the peeled artichoke and throw away the water. Callers to BBC Radio 4’s Veg Talk  programme have also recommended a cup of fennel tea afterwards or, more bracingly, a shot of cider vinegar.

Root down

Our other staple winter vegetables, such as turnips, swedes and celeriac, have much in common – they’re starchy, need peeling and they’re a bit intimidating. Traditionally, these vegetables have been boiled and mashed. And they are very good like that – just add a good knob of butter, maybe some cream, and plenty of salt and pepper.

Still, it can all feel a bit too beige and bland. Fortunately, these vegetables respond well to a kick up the bum. Try cutting them into wedges, brushing with oil and roasting (like potato wedges) Add some fire chilli or other spices, such as cumin or hot paprika.

Top tastes

Similarly, you can cut them into chip-shapes and roast them like oven chips. Blanch them in boiling water first, then let them cool off and dry. Next toss them in some oil and then put them in a hot oven for about 20 minutes. If you have several of these vegetables knocking about, you can mix them all up.

You can also get more creative. There’s a lot to be said for grating winter vegetables because it brings out their sweetness and a new texture. Try grating celeriac and mixing it with sour cream or mayonnaise for a winter salad – think Waldorf and add some walnuts and celery if you want.

A cure for sprout phobia

Some more familiar winter vegetables include Brussels sprouts and pumpkin. While not as scary as swedes and celeriac, people harbour prejudices about these foods. The sprout, in particular, has an image problem.

If you just boil your sprouts, it’s no wonder if you get bored – try steaming them for a couple of minutes and then stir-frying them in a smoking hot wok. Add what you like – onion and garlic, bacon, chopped chestnuts – and finish with a splash of balsamic vinegar. The stir-frying gives a sweeter edge to the sprouts and makes them less cabbage-like.

World inspiration

It’s also helpful to look around the world for inspiration. Pumpkins can seem bland, but in Argentina it’s traditional to hollow them out and cook meat in them for a thick, hearty stew. The pumpkin is then baked in the oven for an hour or so and the stew is ladled out of it.

Pumpkins are also popular in some Asian cuisines – Nigella Lawson has a recipe for a yellow pumpkin and seafood Thai curry – and it appears in South Indian recipes too. In the Caribbean, pumpkins turns up in braises and in the Middle East they are often stuffed with meat, rice and spices.

The comfort zone

And finally, think of the carrot cake and extrapolate from there. There’s almost no end of possibilities for creating savoury – or indeed sweet – muffins and cakes using winter vegetables. It’s precisely their sweet, starchy nature that makes them get on well with butter and flour.

A basic muffin recipe can be adapted by leaving out the sugar and adding a few cups of grated vegetables – carrot, parsnip, potato – and some cheese to make a savoury batch. If you have kids, this is a sneaky way of getting some extra vegetables into their diet. Apple and carrot work well together in a muffin recipe.

Winter always feels like ages, but it will seem like an eternity if you eat boiled turnips. Open your mind, be creative and you might even find yourself looking forward to the swede season next year. 

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