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All hail root crops


Root Crops

Tina Witherspoon, Unsplash

Root vegetables absorb water and nutrients over slower growing periods, making them nutritional powerhouses in winter. Here are a few of our all-time favourites.

Almost any food and fresh produce item you can think of is at your fingertips, regardless the time of year. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that it’s what your body or the planet needs when it comes to abundant health and good nutrition. Produce grown and eaten seasonally also means grown locally, reducing the environmental footprint of transporting food, supporting local economies and farmers and creating greater connection to the land and community. Foods produced and consumed in season are more nutritionally dense and maximise flavour. Eating for the season is nothing new in the food world, yet it’s easily forgotten. In the cooler months, it’s time to revisit the incredible benefits of eating for the season and dive into some of the season’s great staples: root crops.

Foods produced and consumed in season are more nutritionally dense and maximise flavour.

The cooler months offer an array of beautiful fresh produce options including apples, kiwifruit, citrus, pears, rhubarb, cauliflower, kale, radicchio, silver beet, strawberries, mandarins, blood oranges and pumpkin. But root crops and vegetables including potato, sweet potato, parsnip, carrot, beetroot, swedes, turnips and Jerusalem artichoke, just as a start, deliver sustenance and create the base of many meals. Being “rooted” in the ground, root vegies absorb water and nutrients over slower growing periods, making them absolute nutritional powerhouses in the winter vegetable kingdom.

Sweet potato

Sweet potato has been the hero of the health world for some time. Being highly nutritious, energising and absolutely scrumptious makes it an easy foundation or addition to most winter meals. Once cooked, sweet potatoes offer a significant amount of fibre, both soluble and insoluble, which can slow digestion, satiate appetite and stabilise blood glucose levels. Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins, minerals and plant compounds with rich stores of beta-carotene, vitamin C and chlorogenic acid. Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A, which the body utilises to support immune function, healthy reproductive function and vision. Chlorogenic acid (CGA), a bioactive polyphenol (also present in larger quantities in coffee) has unique biochemical and physiological effects on chronic disease such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), obesity and cancer.

Savour your serve of sweet potato with these meals and snacks:

  • Miso-glazed sweet potato with Japanese vegetables (featured)
  • Baked sweet potato wedges with paprika, chilli, sea salt and lentil or white bean dip
  • Sweet potato “toast” (thin slices baked or popped into the toaster) with avocado, chilli lemon and herbs for breakfast
  • Steamed and mashed with extra-virgin olive oil teamed with grilled fish and steamed winter greens
  • Grated and popped into a loaf with coconut, dates spices and a sweet tahini frosting
  • Sweet potato and bean burgers with all the fresh trimmings

Beetroot

Beetroot appear less frequently in recipes and cooking repertoires it seems, but most definitely should not be missed as its nutritional benefits are vast. While commonly used as a roasted root vegetable, sweet in flavour, beetroots are also easily peeled and grated into salads, wraps and sandwiches, which can easily improve intake of fibre, folate and plant compounds such as betalains. Folate (vitamin B9) is vital for normal cell function and metabolism, tissue growth and the production of DNA and genetic material. At certain life stages such as pregnancy the demand for folate increases significantly to meet the needs of baby’s growth. Betalain, a phytochemical compound, present in beets and delivering the stunning, rich hue to the root vegetable, contains high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities and may play a pertinent role in treating disease states such as liver disease, arthritis and cancer.

Bump up your beets with these delicious numbers:

  • Beetroot cottage cheese on rye with smoked salmon and avocado (featured)
  • Beetroot hummus with fresh vegetable sticks and seed snaps
  • Roasted beetroot salad with beet leaves and winter bitter greens, goat’s cheese and walnuts
  • Blood-building beetroot borscht soup
  • Beetroot, carrot, ginger and celery juice for an energy- dense nourishing swap for coffee
  • Grated and stored ready to throw into a nourishing lunchtime wrap with carrots, avocado, legumes and greens

Parsnips

Parsnips, while perhaps the forgotten member of the root crop family and confused with their orange (carrot) cousin, are dense in nutrients including vitamin C and E, soluble fibre, potassium and folate. The potassium and folate present in parsnips work synergistically to reduce risk of heart disease by improving vasodilation and blood pressure and lowering homocysteine levels in the body. Need any more reason to eat your parsnips?

Pimp the parsnip on your plate with these wholesome menu additions:

  • Baked parsnip fries with grilled eggplant chips and your choice of protein
  • Parsnip and cauliflower soup with Indian spices
  • Mashed parsnip creamed with plant-based milk and nutritional yeast to accompany your favourite slow-cooker meal
  • Parsnip, lentil and nutty salad with a bounty of fresh herbs
  • Minestrone soup with root vegies including parsnip topped with a dollop of pesto and toasty sourdough bread on the side
  • Vegetarian shepherd’s pie with parsnip mash

Potato

Oh, the humble potato! How it is loved but still receives a terrible rap. Let’s make things a touch clearer and happier for the spud though, shall we? The nutrient value in the potato is significantly affected by the way you cook the root vegetable. Too frequently consumed deep-fried or in the form of crisps, any food won’t add value to a healthy diet. However, a potato cooked by simple means — baked or, even better, steamed and cooled — can deliver significant nutrition and balance to the diet. Potatoes, cooked with the skin on and without the deep-fry, are a rich source of vitamin C, potassium and a type of fibre called resistant starch.

The vitamin C present in potatoes supports cell function, reduces the effects of oxidative stress on cells, and can play a role in boosting immune function.

The vitamin C present in potatoes supports cell function, reduces the effects of oxidative stress on cells and can play a role in boosting immune function. Potassium takes the responsibility of regulating fluid balance, nerve function and muscle contraction, and is often a favoured nutrient and food for athletes and those with highly active lifestyle — for good reason! Lastly but definitely not least on the list of benefits of the white potato is the quality of resistant starch present, in particular in cooked and cooled potatoes (potato salad — hello). Resistant starch is a type of fibre which “resists” or bypasses earlier stages of digestion, and upon reaching the large bowel begins to ferment and fuel the beneficial gut bacteria, supporting digestive health and overall wellbeing.

Pump your potatoes with these nutritious ideas:

  • Tomato- and tuna-stuffed jacket potatoes (featured)
  • Potatoes with a mushroom and bean Mexican chilli and guacamole
  • Potato, cauliflower, bean and pear curry
  • Steamed and cooled potatoes popped into a lunchbox salad
  • Root vegie bake with potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes in Moroccan spice and harissa yoghurt served with your choice of protein
  • Potato, leek and parsnip soup

Carrots

Carrots are nature’s wonder snack from the root crop family. They’re delicious, sweet but savoury, crunchy, crisp and satisfying, and fuel the body with nutrients including beta-carotene, fibre and biotin. Nutritionally, carrots are a snack powerhouse for those individuals with diabetes and blood glucose management conditions, due to their low glycaemic index (in particular raw carrots, which rank lowest out of all prepared forms of carrots). Team in a box with some nuts and hummus and you’ve a winning low-GI, health-punching snack for any time of day. The fibre, both insoluble and soluble, present in carrots can sustain energy and appetite, while helping to maintain healthy digestion and of course regular bowel motions. Biotin, a water-soluble B vitamin, supports the conversion of nutrients to energy and plays unique roles in both cell signalling and the epigenetic regulation of genes.

Crack on cooking your favourites with a few extra carrots in these meal ideas:

  • Cinnamon roast carrots with dukkha and tahini yoghurt dressing
  • Carrot fritters popped into a lunchbox
  • Vegetarian carrot and feta lasagne
  • Diced carrots popped into a wholesome tofu and vegie brown fried rice
  • Carrot, corn and sweet potato soup
  • Fresh carrots, washed, cut and on the ready for a snack dip into cottage or ricotta cheese, or hummus for a vegan option

Tomato Tuna Jacket Potatoes

Makes: 4 jacket potatoes

4 medium to large potatoes

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Stuffing

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced

200g chopped fresh or BPA-free tinned tomatoes

150g tinned tuna, preferably wild-caught

1 tbsp finely chopped fresh herbs such as basil or parsley

Sea salt & black pepper

Heat oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Prick potatoes with a knife or skewer all over 10–12 times, rub with extra-virgin olive oil, and place on tray and in the oven to cook for 50–60 mins.

While potatoes are cooking make the stuffing. Heat extra-virgin olive oil in a small saucepan on medium heat, add garlic and cook for 1–2 mins until lightly golden, then add tomatoes, tuna and half the herbs, season with sea salt and black pepper and simmer for 10-15 mins. Remove from heat, cover and set aside until potatoes are cooked.

Once potatoes are cooked, press open the top with a fork, or cut a wedge into the top, fill evenly with the tuna-tomato stuffing and place back in the oven to cook a further 10 mins.

Once heated through, sprinkle with remaining herbs and any other condiments you might enjoy such as nutritional yeast for a dairy-free cheesy option or some parmesan.

Serve with a leafy green salad.

Beetroot Avocado & Smoked Salmon on Rye

Serves: 1

100g cooked beetroot, diced into small pieces

80g cottage cheese

1 tsp chopped red onion or ½ shallot

1 tsp finely chopped dill or fresh herbs of choice

2 pieces rye sourdough, toasted or sliced fresh

50g smoked salmon, approx. 2 slices

½ avocado, peeled & sliced

Fresh lemon wedge

Sea salt & black pepper

Combine diced beetroot, cottage cheese, red onion and herbs of choice in a small bowl and mix to combine.

Spread evenly over rye bread or toast, top with smoked salmon and avocado, squeeze with lemon and season with sea salt and black pepper.

Miso-Glazed Sweet Potato & Japanese Greens

Serves: 2

1 large sweet potato or 2 small medium-sized

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 zucchini, diced

120g baby spinach

1 shallot, green & white part finely sliced

2 tbsp finely chopped nori or Japanese furikake seasoning

¼ cup walnuts, roughly chopped

2 tbsp pickled ginger

2 tsp tamari or gluten-free soy sauce

Fresh lemon wedges, to serve

Miso Glaze

1 tbsp white miso paste

1 tbsp maple syrup

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Heat oven to 180°C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Slice sweet potato in half lengthways; if using one large sweet potato, slice halves across the middle to make even-sized pieces.

Prick the skin side 6–8 times with a knife or skewer and rub all over the pieces with about 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil. Place flesh side down on one baking tray and place in oven to cook for 50 mins.

Spread diced zucchini over second baking tray, drizzle with remaining oil and toss to coat. Whisk together ingredients for miso glaze in a small bowl.

Remove sweet potatoes from the oven after 50 mins, spread miso glaze over the flesh side, place flesh side down on the tray and replace in the oven along with the tray of zucchini to cook for 10 mins more.

Blanch baby spinach in boiling water and drain well, squeezing out excess liquid, then set aside.

Remove sweet potato and zucchini from oven and arrange sweet potato on plates or serving platter with baby spinach.

Top with cooked zucchini, sprinkle with sliced shallot, seaweed or furikake and walnuts and add pickled ginger on the side.

Drizzle with tamari or soy sauce and serve with lemon wedge.



 

Jacqueline Alwill

Jacqueline Alwill, founder of The Brown Paper Bag, is an Australian nutritionist, author, presenter and mum. She is dedicated to improving the health, wellbeing and happiness of all individuals. Jacqueline’s philosophy on health lays the foundations for the experience that clients and the community have in her practice, workshops and the food they cook.