Turnips, kohlrabi, celery root, rutabaga. Root vegetables all, and often left for last in the CSA box by otherwise enterprising cooks who are flummoxed by their ugly looks and famine-food reputations. Among these intimidating vegetables, rutabaga looms large — both because of its size, and because it is simply my favorite one of all to eat. I want to cajole you into giving rutabaga a chance. Here's why it deserves a place of honor right beside your potatoes and sweet potatoes.
First, the facts. Rutabaga (also called swede) is in the Brassica family, that of turnips and cabbage, and when you cut one open you get a very definite whiff of the cruciferous. Technically, rutabaga is actually a direct cross between cabbage and turnips, and it shares turnips' slightly bitter flavor. Raw rutabaga tastes milder than turnips though, almost like a carrot without sweetness. It's crisp, juicy, and just a tiny bit piquant.
In cooked dishes, though, that's where rutabagas shine. The rutabaga has a more mellow, golden appearance than turnips or potatoes, and when cooked it turns sweet yet savory — like the richest golden potato you can imagine. It's less starchy, but still very satisfying.
Another plus to the rutabaga: It's actually quite easy to peel! The outer peel is usually waxed to preserve freshness all winter long, and it peels away easily with a sharp vegetable peeler. The flesh itself is very hard, but I like to slice it away in thin slices, starting from the outside.
I like to mash rutabagas with a little milk and cream, just like potatoes, or add some chunks to mashed potatoes. They add color and flavor, and all on their own they mash up deliciously golden and colorful. They are just as simple to cook as potatoes, and maybe a bit more delicious.
Convinced yet? Here are a few favorite recipes to try out...
Do you cook with rutabaga? What's your favorite way to eat it?
(Images: Faith Durand)