Ways to Cook Root Vegetables

08 March 2021

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

In many parts of the world, cold weather may mean one kind of vegetable is on your table -- root vegetables!

Root vegetables are plant roots. You must dig them up to eat them.

Common root vegetables are the beet, parsnip, turnip, carrot, members of the onion family, garlic, celery root, turmeric, radish (including daikon and horseradish), and ginger. Root vegetables such as potatoes and yams are also members of the tuber family of vegetables.

Some root vegetables -- such as carrots, turnips, and beets -- get sweeter once the weather first gets freezing cold. The cold causes the roots to work hard to prevent the plants from freezing. This causes the natural starches to turn into sugar. And sugar is the most important ingredient for a process called caramelization.

FILE - Radishes are displayed for sale at an outdoor market in Arlington, Va., May 24, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FILE - Radishes are displayed for sale at an outdoor market in Arlington, Va., May 24, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Ways to cook them (recipes!)

Meredith Massey is a mother of two teenagers in the state of Maryland near Washington, D.C. She explains caramelization better than any dictionary could.

"It gets that caramelized bits, if you roast them well. It doesn't burn, but it just browns and is a little bit crispy and a little bit sweet...delicious!"

Cooking in a hot oven is one of the easiest ways to enjoy root vegetables. Wash and remove the skin if needed. Put olive oil, salt, and pepper on them. And then roast them in the oven at about 204 degrees Celsius.

Another simple way to cook root vegetables is to boil them. They are perfect to add to soups. But most take longer to cook than some other ingredients. So, you might want to add them first.

Massey shares with us her simple way of preparing beet and carrot soup.

"So, I like to do a really simple dish with beets. It's beets, beet greens, and carrots. So, you chop the beets up into little cubes. And then you chop up the beet greens from the top of the beet. And then you chop up some carrots into little circles. And you put them all into a pot with a little bit of water and you bring that to a boil until the carrots and the beets are soft. But not too soft. And then you add a very small amount of butter. Somehow that little bit of butter makes the whole dish taste very buttery and delicious."

Jim Shepherd is a lawyer and father of three children in California. He shares his favorite way of cooking carrots.

He begins by removing the skin from the carrots and then cutting them into thin sticks. He says to use the freshest carrots you can find.

"And you've got on the stove a saucepan with water and some butter, maybe a little salt and pepper. And so you've got nice hot water to put your carrots in. And you might want to shave some fresh ginger, maybe some orange zest into the water, and just let them gently cook for however long it takes for them to become slightly tender. In Italian cooking, you call it al dente, probably."

He says not only are the carrots delicious, but so is the water. It has carrot flavor and anything else you chose to add. Shepherd serves it as a soup or uses it a cooking liquid for other recipes. A recipe tells you how to cook a dish and the ingredients are the separate items in a recipe.

"And it's just a wonderfully simple yet very powerful dish, in my opinion. I keep returning to it over and over again, partly because of its simplicity. But it's also a flexible recipe in that, you can put the ginger in, like I said, and orange zest. But you could also try some mushrooms in it, you could put some herbs in it ... or again just straight up butter, salt, pepper...just delicious."

Jen Johnson is a lawyer in Tacoma Park, Maryland. She prefers golden beets instead of the red ones. She roasts them whole for about 45 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. She lets them cool, takes the skin off and then slices them with goat cheese. She says with golden beets her kitchen looks less like a crime scene. Beet juice is very dark red.

Sarah Rozner has not been so luckily. She is a mixologist in Washington, D.C.

"There is beet juice everywhere. It is like a crime scene in my kitchen. I cannot stop cleaning up beet juice everywhere!"


Rozner is well-known in the mixologist world for her alcoholic drinks. She uses surprising ingredients like beet juice. She says you can easily leave out the alcohol for this drink. She starts with beet juice that you can either buy or make yourself.

"And gin works really well with beets -- 100 percent -- that goes really well. Ginger also works really well with that, some lemon. I also...I use raw honey and bee pollen. So, you get some more of those earthy deep, rich flavors and a little sweetness...and some jasmine flowers -- if you want to go, you know, really far. But yeah, definitely just lemon and ginger will work just fine."

Roasting in the oven and boiling on the stove are both popular ways to cook root vegetables. You can also braise them. Braising means to cook in fat and then in a little liquid. Or you can grill them over an open fire or gas grill.

Since root vegetables grow underground, they take in many nutrients from the soil. This makes them high in nutrients. Growing underground also gives them their special flavor that is described by most people as "earthy."

"It brings so many memories and feelings and, you know, it's earthy and natural. You get the grass the dirt. It's all those things. And I love that connection."

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story with additional material from a story by Katie Workman of Associated Press. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

crispy –adj.(food) thin and easily broken

delicious –adj. (food) good tasting

flavor –adj. a quality that can be tasted

chop –v. to cut into small pieces

shave –v. to cut into very thin pieces

zest –n. a small piece of the skin of lemon or citrus used to give food taste

tender –adj. easy to chew or bite, not hard or tough

flexible –adj. able to be changed

straight up – slang adj. simply, exactly, honestly

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