Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and beets are popular foods for fall and winter because they store well. Along with winter squash, they are vegetable crops that generally take a longer time to reach maturity. We harvest them at the end of the growing season. By that time, the plant has had lots of time to store sugars in the roots. Around the same time the weather starts to turn cold, our bodies begin to crave squash soup and stews thick with root vegetables.
Besides being well suited for long storage, root vegetables also provide fibre, starch, and low-glycemic complex carbohydrates. When we eat them, we tend to feel full and to stay full longer. This is important during the cold weather when we might otherwise sit around nibbling on less healthy foods. That feeling of satiety can mean that we will eat less during meal times. It may also help prevent between meal snacking. Eating root vegetables regularly throughout the winter is just one strategy for maintaining a healthy diet and preventing holiday weight gain.
Humble Root Vegetables for Special Occasions
While root vegetables may seem very earthy and humble, they can become the stars of a meal if you know how to cook them. Sweet potatoes and carrots contain a ton of vitamin A. Their bright orange colour reminds us how nutritious they are. Plain old boiled potatoes scored the highest of 38 foods on the satiety index. Compared to other foods, you need to eat less of them to feel full. One study even showed that if you eat boiled potatoes with a pork steak, you’ll eat less during your meal. The boiled potatoes also produced less of an insulin spike than rice or pasta. And potatoes may even affect how your body responds to the “hunger hormone,” ghrelin.
The rutabaga, also called yellow turnip or swede, is a new vegetable for a lot of people. I was actually surprised by this when I first wrote about turnips. It seems many of my readers and social media connections have never eaten either a turnip or a rutabaga. I heard from, a lot of people who said they’d been nervous about trying these root vegetables. Many decided they wanted to try them after reading about the different ways you can cook turnips. You probably didn’t know that the turnip is related to cabbage and other brassicas. If you eat the turnip greens, you can taste the similarity to leafy green vegetables like kale or collards. But that connection isn’t as obvious if you’re just eating the root.
Rotmos, Mashed Root Vegetables
I first had root mash when I worked at a chronic care hospital, where the cafeteria served it regularly. Their version of the traditional Swedish dish was very simple: basically just carrots and rutabaga boiled together and mashed. I loved the tangy taste of the rutabaga with the sweet carrots. When I started making root mash at home, I cooked it very simply. And because I liked the smooth look of the mash when it was pureed for patients who had difficulty chewing, I often pureed my own root mash to make it smoother.
A traditional rotmos is a bit more involved than just boiling carrots and rutabaga together, though. In Sweden, there is a dish called fläsklägg med rotmos, or ham hock with root mash. To prepare this dish, you cook onions and carrots in a pot with a cured ham hock. When the meat comes away from the bone, you remove it from the pot and add more root vegetables. Cook the vegetables in the ham broth until tender, then mash them. Most recipes include rutabaga and potatoes. But you’ll also see some recipes that call for parsnips or the root of Hamburg parsley.
I’ve chosen to create a recipe that includes the ham hocks, since this recalls a Québécois Christmas dish that I love. Since it’s rare to find Hamburg parsley in North America, my recipes calls for parsnips. But if you can’t find parsnips at your grocery store or farmer’s market, just use a little extra rutabaga.
Mashed Root Vegetables, The Recipe
2-1/2 lb cured ham hocks
1 medium onion, cut into quarters
1/2 carrot, peeled and cut into large chunks
5 whole allspice berries
a few peppercorns
1 medium rutabaga or 2-3 medium turnips
1-2 tbsp butter (vegan butter or margarine, for vegan-friendly option)
a little ground nutmeg or allspice
a handful of chopped Italian parsley (optional)
In a heavy pot with about 3 cups water, cook the ham hocks with the onion, half carrot, allspice, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, covered; reduce heat and simmer about 2 hours or until the meat comes away from the bones.
When the meat is almost cooked, peel and dice the root vegetables. Keep the peels and end bits of the vegetables for your soup bag.
Remove the meat from the pot and set aside. Strain out the whole spices and any really big pieces of onion that remain. Add the carrots, parsnips, and rutabaga to the pot. Cover and return to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 30 minutes.
Add potatoes and cook about 15 minutes more, or until the vegetables are soft. Remove from heat and drain, reserving the cooking liquid.
Mash the vegetables, adding the butter and just enough of the cooking liquid to make the root mash smooth. The traditional way to serve rotmos is with a little bit of the chunks still in it. But I like to mash very well, or even to puree the root vegetables. You can do this with an immersion blender to speed things up a bit. Taste before adding salt and pepper, as the ham hocks are salty and you’ll have cooked the vegetables along with the peppercorns.
Serve the mashed root vegetables alongside a portion of meat stripped from the ham hocks. Spoon a little of the cooking liquid over the meat, or use it to make gravy. Add a leafy green vegetable such as garden peas, kale or turnip greens to the plate for colour
Serves 6-8 people
If you can’t find cured ham hocks (pig’s knuckles) you can substitute a bone-in ham.
To make just the mashed root vegetables, omit the ham hocks and cook in 3 cups of vegetable stock. Since there’s no meat to cook, put all the vegetables except the potatoes in the stock and cook for 30 minutes only. Add the potatoes and cook another 15 minutes.
If you have a garden, consider growing Hamburg parsley for this dish. Like many other root vegetables, it’s dual purpose. You can eat the parsley greens throughout the summer while the roots are maturing. In the fall, harvest the roots. They taste like parsnips, but with a hint of parsley. Use the roots instead of the parsnips in this recipe; substitute the greens for the Italian parsley.
Feel free to experiment with other root vegetables. I have seen recipes that include celeriac root and even sweet potatoes. You might also try adding peeled kohlrabi roots to the mash. The leaves of the kohlrabi make a lovely cooked green.
- When you cook rotmos and ham hocks, save the bones for making pea soup. Or add them to your soup bag and use them to make a meaty stock.
- Save any leftover cooking liquid in labelled jars for later use, or freeze in ice cube trays for smaller portions.
- If you have small amounts of leftover root vegetables, you can use them to make a small batch of creamy root vegetable soup.
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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
Rotmos photo by Craig Dugas/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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