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Rainbow Kitchen

Rooting for the Roots of Healthy Eating

By Allison St. Claire
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Root vegetables not only improve our physical well being, but improve our mental health as well due to their high amounts of antioxidants which help remove harmful free radicals and toxins from the body. Free radicals and toxins can leave you feeling sick – physically, emotionally and mentally. (Cabin fever or winter blues come to mind?)

New year. Time to relax from the holidays and let our digestive system renew itself after all the celebratory indulgences. Time to get back to the roots of good-health food. And time to reflect on a couple of common kitchen precepts.

First: What grows together, goes together. Thinking lamb? Bet mint and fresh peas follow right along. Of course, they’re all at their best in the early spring. Fresh beans, tomatoes and corn? All ready in the field at the same time. Eating seasonally was the norm for millennia. So, if you find a recipe calling for an exotic or out of season ingredient, consider adapting or substituting to save time (no extra trips to the store), money (see: trips to the store), and your good health.

A quick reminder for me recently. I baked a small pumpkin pie and ended up with only enough puree (pumpkin, condensed milk, egg and pumpkin pie spices) to make a very skimpy pie.  So I pulled out about half the normal amount of storage apples I would use for a pie. Peeled and sliced them into a bottom crust, added sugar and cinnamon to taste. Covered them with the pumpkin puree, dusted the whole thing with some extra nutmeg and baked. I’ve never seen a pie disappear so fast! A new seasonal treat.

Second: What’s seasonal and usually provides exactly what we need to survive and thrive at that time. Some of the more common root vegetables which predominate in the produce section these cold, dark days of winter include: beets, carrots, celeriac (a.k.a. celery root), onions, parsnips, potatoes, radish, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, and turnips. Also ginger roots, bamboo shoots, horseradish, and kohlrabi, which while perhaps not so common, all add goodness and taste to winter dishes.

Most root vegetables are high in complex carbohydrates, which break down into sugar and provide energy. (Excellent choice in place of simple carbs so prevalent in holiday desserts.) They are also high in fiber and phytonutrients, and mostly are low calorie. (See: recovering from holiday desserts.) Additionally, they are generally high in vitamin C, beta-carotene, and contain essential minerals such as potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and small amounts of iron. (Vitamin C is a first-line defender against colds and flu; beta carotene is a super-hero to our eyes, especially at a time when we often have to function in low light.)

Root vegetables not only improve our physical well being, but improve our mental health as well due to their high amounts of antioxidants which help remove harmful free radicals and toxins from the body. Free radicals and toxins can leave you feeling sick – physically, emotionally and mentally. (Cabin fever or winter blues come to mind?)

Here are a couple of delicious ways to try some of the roots many people often ignore. You won’t once you try these.

 

Turnip Beef Soup

½ lb. beef sirloin or beef stew pieces


1 tablespoon olive oil


4 cups beef or chicken broth
1 cup beer or ale


1/4 cups barley, rinsed and drained or brown rice


2-3 turnips, peeled and cut into small cubes


1-3 leeks, or onions, chopped


2 carrots, scrubbed and cut into small cubes


1 stalk celery, diced


Fresh or dried thyme to taste


Salt and pepper to taste

Trim away all visible fat from beef and cut into small cubes. Heat oil in a large saucepan; add beef and cook over medium heat to brown on all sides. Add remaining ingredients to pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1½ hours. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

 

Ginger Parsnip Soup

(adapted from Bon Appetit)

2 tablespoons butter 


2 cups chopped onions 


½ cup chopped celery 


2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger 


1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper


3 cups chicken broth 


3 cups parsnips, peeled and coarsely chopped (about one pound) 


1 cup half and half

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add next 4 ingredients and saute until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in broth and parsnips; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until parsnips are tender, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly. Puree soup (immersible blender or a traditional blender or food processor). Strain into another large pot; discard solids in strainer if desired. Whisk in half and half. Season with salt and pepper.


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Allison St. Claire loves to dream about, study, grow, play with, prepare and ultimately enjoy eating great food.

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