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6 Winter Superfoods to Cook with ASAP
Bumpy, gnarly root vegetables aren't the prettiest produce-section picks. They're easy to overlook next to vivid rainbow chard or a pile of glossy pomegranates. "But if you do, you're missing out on great winter vegetables," says Wendy Jo Peterson, R.D., a sports dietitian and culinary nutritionist in Austin, Texas. "Roots are nutrient dense, inexpensive and low in calories." They're as yummy as they are versatile, with flavors that range from earthy and robust to crisp and refreshing. "And for the home cook, it's really hard to screw them up," says Diane Morgan, the author of Roots: The Definitive Compendium With More Than 225 Recipes. We dug up six of the best roots and uncovered plenty of reasons to turn them into winter mainstays.
They're the lowest in calories of all the vegetables in our list, with just 36 per cup. Crisp like a radish and with a slightly bitter flavor, turnips are also packed with vitamin C and rich in glucosinolates, which are sulfuric compounds that have been linked to cancer prevention. Peel these roots as you would a potato, then braise, sauté, boil or roast. "Toss with olive oil, cumin, lemon zest and salt before roasting—simple and delish!" says healthy-foods chef Erin Scott, the author of the Yummy Supper cookbook. Or use pureed roasted turnips to thicken soups and stews without adding calories. And whatever you do, don't waste the tops! For an extra dose of fiber and vitamin K, sauté turnip greens with olive oil, garlic and fresh lemon juice.
- Make turnip latkes: Combine grated turnips and onions (squeeze out excess moisture) with eggs, flour, lemon juice and salt; cook in a skillet for 3 minutes a side.
- Top steamed turnip slices with honey and toasted almonds.
- For a perfect party appetizer, wrap blanched turnip wedges in pancetta and bake at 400° for 15 to 20 minutes.
These slightly sweet cousins of carrots and parsley pack more potassium—an electrolyte that helps fend off cramps and bloating—than bananas do. Parsnips also provide Vitamin C, an antioxidant that may shorten winter colds and help skin keep that youthful glow by boosting collagen production. You can use them instead of carrots in recipes (choose smaller ones; they have the most flavor), but they're not as tasty raw. "Slice out the core with a paring knife, then steam, braise or sauté," suggests Deborah Madison, the author of The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.
- Make parsnip "fries." Slice and toss with rosemary in olive oil, then bake at 400° for 25 to 30 minutes.
- Whip up parsnip puree by boiling parsnips in milk until tender, then processing until smooth in a food processor. Season with salt and pepper.
- Swap grated parsnips into any carrot cake recipe. The resulting treat will be considerably paler but just as tasty.
Popping baby carrots like Pringles isn't the only way to enjoy these veggies. Cooking and pureeing them makes their beta-carotene more absorbable. This antioxidant, which is converted to vitamin A in the body, is linked to heart health and cancer prevention. Just one small carrot more than fulfills your vitamin A requirement for the day. In addition to your sunscreen regimen, eating carrots can help keep your skin healthy and protect against the sun's rays. Opt for whole carrots when shopping—they're cheaper than baby ones. Pick a bunch with perky bright green tops to ensure freshness.
- Blend raw or cooked carrots with frozen banana, almond milk, cinnamon and ice for a smoothie.
- Swap blanched carrot ribbons with pesto and feta for pasta.
- Slice carrots in half lengthwise; wrap in parchment paper with olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, fresh herbs and sea salt; bake at 400° for 25 to 30 minutes.
Tasting like a cross between a potato and watercress, with the slight sweetness of a cucumber, jicama makes a great postworkout snack. "It's 90 percent water, so it's naturally hydrating," says Michelle Babb, R.D., a nutritionist in Seattle and the author of Anti-Inflammatory Eating Made Easy. Choose firm jicama with smooth, unblemished skin. Peel it just before serving; a sharp paring knife works best on the sometimes waxy brown skin.
- Snack on raw jicama sticks sprinkled with lime juice and chili powder.
- Stir-fry jicama strips with flank steak, bell peppers and soy sauce.
- Toss jicama matchsticks with orange segments, diced avocado, lime vinaigrette and cilantro.
These knobby tubers are widely known as sunchokes because they're the underground stems of sunflowers, and can be used in place of potatoes in recipes. "Nutty, slightly sweet sunchokes are one of the best sources of inulin, a prebiotic that promotes friendly bacteria in the gut to improve energy, immunity and overall health," Babb says. They're also an excellent vegetarian source of iron, a nutrient that active women need (not getting enough can slow you down and cause muscle fatigue). It's a cinch to prep them; simply wash and scrub with a vegetable brush.
- Make chips: Toss thinly sliced sunchokes with olive oil and paprika, then bake in a single layer at 400° for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Sauté sunchokes and leeks, add vegetable broth and cook until tender. Purée with an immersion blender and season with salt for a velvety soup.
- For a twist on hummus, blend roasted sunchokes and canned chickpeas with lemon, garlic and olive oil.
This root just might better your 5K time. A study by researchers at Saint Louis University found that eating cooked beets improves running performance, thanks to nitrates, which open up blood vessels and boost oxygen efficiency. Plus, beets have been shown to reduce inflammation, which can aid workout recovery, Babb says. Beets come in a rainbow of shades—golden, red and even striped—but "no matter the color, they pack an antioxidant punch," Peterson says. Peel raw beets with a vegetable peeler, or steam whole ones (you can also put them in a slow cooker) until tender and rub off the skin with a paper towel. Clean beet juice from hands and cutting boards right away to avoid staining.
- Serve baked beets instead of baked potatoes: Wrap in foil and cook at 400° for 45 to 60 minutes, or until tender, and peel. Top with Greek yogurt and chives.
- Peel raw beets with a vegetable peeler, grate in a food processor fitted with the shredding blade and store covered in the fridge for up to five days for use in salads or rice bowls.
- Slice cooked, peeled beets and stack with feta and arugula. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Not sure how to store and peel root vegetables? Here's your guide:
Separate: Cut off the tops, leaving one inch of the stem. Store roots and tops separately for freshness.
Store: Wrap root vegetables in dry paper towels, then refrigerate inside a loosely closed plastic bag. They'll keep for three weeks or longer.
Scrub or peel: The peel contains nutrients, and for some veggies, like Jerusalem artichokes and parsnips, it's fine to eat it. When peeling is necessary, a serrated tool, like the Oxo Good Grips serrated peeler ($9, oxo.com), makes the job easier. (You may need a paring knife for especially thick-skinned roots like jicama.)
Cook up a batch of mixed roots on Sunday for healthy meals all week. Cut them into uniform chunks; season with oil, salt and pepper; and roast on a baking sheet at 425° for about 45 minutes. "Keep your vegetables in a single layer, otherwise they'll steam," Madison says. Then try mixing 'em with any of these for healthy eats you'll really enjoy.
Toss in: omelets, frittatas, grain salads, pasta, couscous
Add to: quesadillas, tacos, sandwiches, curries
Puree into: soups, dips, smoothies
Top: bruschetta, pizza