by Kate Heyhoe
If you're not familiar with parsnips, now's the time to dig into this sublime vegetable.
Cold weather brings out the best in the parsnip—literally. Chilly temperatures convert the ivory root's starch into sweetness and enhance its unique taste. While the parsnip is related to the carrot, it has a more intriguing flavor and is nutritionally richer.
Like a complex wine, the parsnip's flavor is full of nuances; it's been described as sweeter than a carrot, with nutty, buttery and warm spice tones. Wikipedia says the taste is reminiscent of "butterscotch, honey, and subtle cardamom." As a side dish or added ingredient, it pairs well with European fare, but also with Latin, Asian, Middle Eastern and even Indian cuisine. If you've ever enjoyed a bag of veggie chips (like Terra Chips for instance), you've experienced the parsnip: thin, crisp and milling about with beet, turnip, taro, sweet potato and other root chips.
I find the parsnip needs few enhancements; in fact, it has the special ability to double the impact of just one or two well-chosen seasonings. It makes warm spices shine, especially cumin, ginger, cardamom, and nutmeg. Garlic, parsley, and/or white pepper, can be singularly perfect parsnip additions. A dash of curry powder, smoked paprika or chile powder can send the parsnip soaring around the globe.
But for some silly reason, the parsnip has been underappreciated. If you've never tried a parsnip, I encourage you to test-drive the root using the Parsnip Strips in Comino Butter below -- it's a simple five minute recipe, and requires little more than cumin, butter, a vegetable peeler, and a skillet. The strips keep their shape and get browned on the edges.
Parsnips have textural options, too. Roast or pan-fry them just long enough to develop browned, caramelized edges and tender centers. For soft comfort food, cook them thoroughly and puree them, either alone or mixed into mashed potatoes or mashed carrots. Parsnips and apples compliment each other wonderfully, especially with a hint of nutmeg (as in Pan-Roasted Parsnip and Apple Puree.)
Selecting: Medium to small parsnips are best; large parsnips have more of a fibrous core, but cut out the core and the large ones taste fine. Choose firm, smooth parsnips, not limp or shriveled. Interiors should be creamy white, with a thin beige peel.
Amount: Most stores sell parsnips in 1-pound bags, like carrots. One pound = 2-3 cups chopped (about 4 parsnips).
Prepping: Trim the ends of the root as you would a carrot. The core can be woody and fibrous the higher up the root you go; discard the tough core (usually on sections around 1-inch in diameter), but go ahead and use the tender core near the tip and midsection. If the skin is tough or unsightly, peel it with a vegetable peeler, though peeling is not necessary.
Using: Enjoy parsnips raw or cooked. Raw parsnips have a subtle taste; blanching and more thorough cooking enhances the flavor. Shred raw or cooled, blanched parsnips into salads, for instance. Parsnips can be steamed, sautéed, roasted, boiled, and microwaved. Any recipe for carrots works fine for parsnips. Parsnips can quickly soften and overcook, so add to stews and other dishes at the end of cooking time.
Storage: Keep parsnips well-chilled in a perforated plastic bag in the vegetable bin for 2 weeks or longer (in some cases, even months). They last a long time without depreciable loss of flavor or quality.
Nutrition: Parsnips are a good source of vitamins C, K, and E; folate; copper; potassium, manganese, magnesium and phosphorus. They're rich in fiber, low in calories and fat, and are a nutrient-rich carbohydrate. (More details at LIVESTRONG.com)
Copyright © 2012, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified January 2012
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