Roots are not just earthy brown, beige, black or white; there’s some beautiful colours to be discovered in the dirt, if you take the time to look a little further than the traditional fare. Purple carrots, yellow and candy beetroots and watermelon radishes make for vibrant winter apéro platter, alongside some bright dips like red beetroot hummus (recipe below), golden pumpkin cream or green kale dip. Or step up your soup or salad game with Amy Chaplin’s watermelon radish soup or Ottolenghi’s candy beetroot with lentils and yuzu salad.
You can find these colourful varieties of veggies at the market or in bigger supermarkets like the Coop Ryfflihof in town. Look out for the Pro Specie Rara label, which promotes the cultural, historical and genetic diversity of plants and animals.
From humble roots to superstars
We move on to the blander-looking but certainly not blander-tasting humble roots like parsnips, turnips, celery root, parsley root, salsify and jerusalem artichokes. These beautiful, knobbly beasts also have charm and personality which you can discover by using them in dishes which traditionally call for just potatoes — mash, gratin, roasted, fries…
During the workshop, we enjoyed a root mash of potatoes, parsnips, jerusalem artichokes, swedes and celery root. The roots were peeled and chopped into large chunks, then cooked in salted water until soft. Then we drain them, add some vegan margarine (the Kokos Margarine brand from Migros is good), a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, nutmeg and any optional additional flavourings and then get mashing until we have lovely, pillowy clouds of deliciousness. Add a splash of unsweetened plant-based milk/cream if necessary to achieve the desired consistency.
A few suggestions for adding creaminess to plant-based mash, gratin or any other creamy dish like polenta: soy or oat cream can be found in bigger supermarkets (Alnatura or Alpro brands) or in bio stores (I like the Oatly oat cream or Provamel soy cream). If you’re not a fan of these or are looking for something with less ingredients, try whisking in a bit of cashew cream. You can make cashew cream yourself if you have a very good blender by soaking cashews in water for a few hours, then draining and blending until very smooth, or else you can buy it (Alnatura brand in Migros or Rapunzel and other brands in bio stores).
Then we talked about the “leaf to root” principle of using the entire plant when cooking, trying roasted root skins as an example. To do this, save the potato and parsnip peels from your mash, then toss them with some oil, salt and pepper and an optional drizzle of sweet syrup like birnel (pear juice concentrate) or maple syrup. Roast them in the oven at 180 degrees Celcius for about 10-15 minutes, turning on the grill setting for the last couple of minutes to get some nice, brown edges. Best enjoyed fresh from the oven, these can then be used as garnish for the mash or as apéro.
Next we saw how to make roasted garlic by taking a whole head, cutting off the top, drizzling in a little oil and wrapping the whole thing in alu foil. Then roast in the oven while you are roasting other veggies or the root skins. It takes about 30 minutes in a 180 degree oven. The cloves should be soft and starting to caramelize. Take out and let it cool, and then you can squeeze out the soft cloves and use them in sauces or dressings. In the workshop we saw how to make vegan roasted garlic mayo — first we blended some soy milk and oil (1:2 ratio) with a hand blender until the mixture got thick and resembled mayo, then we added the roasted garlic, some lemon juice, salt and pepper. A drizzle of something sweet like birnel or maple syrup, or a pinch of sugar, would also be good, or any other flavourings such as fresh or dried herbs.
We enjoyed the mash with apple-leek-lentils, the roasted garlic mayo and the roasted skins. We should also have had some salsify alongside, which I unfortunately forgot to serve. Salsify is sometimes referred to as winter asparagus, because it resembles its spring counterpart’s mellow, delicate taste and texture. I’ve also seen it served as veggie scallops. It’s slightly tricky to handle because of the sticky, milky substance that oozes out when you peel it. I recommend to wear gloves while peeling, or else try and hold only the end and rinse with water regularly while peeling. It also starts to turn brown very quickly, so put the peeled sticks in water as soon as possible after peeling. Then I just boiled it until soft and tossed in a little olive oil or margarine while hot.
Finally, I didn’t mention this during the workshop, but sweet potatoes are another wonderful root which is now starting to be grown in Switzerland (a few years ago all you could get were sweet potatoes imported from the U.S.). I really like this “cheesy” sweet potato sauce from 101 cookbooks, or make baked sweet potatoes with all sorts of fillings or toppings, like this dal-stuffed version from Green Kitchen Stories.
A new world
In the last part of the workshop, we talked about the amazing variety of potatoes that are out there — even this humblest of roots comes in different colours, textures and flavours. The LOEB Lebensmittel store has a section of about ten different Pro Specie Rara varieties of Swiss mountain potatoes. They are expensive, but worth exploring for a treat. With any new variety of vegetable, be it a potato, a strange root or bulb, I usually cut it small and sauté it with a little oil, then sprinkle with very little sea salt or fleur de sel and enjoy it plain to get an idea of the flavour. It’s really fun to go to the market, pick up something new and discover a new world!
To counter beetroot’s sweet earthiness, I usually use quite a bit of lemon juice and something spicy like cayenne pepper. Other than that, this “recipe” is very approximate — you can make it more or less “beetrooty”, vary the seasoning, add more or less water for a different texture… play around!
~200g raw beetroot, chopped into chunks (cooked beetroot also works)
~250g cooked chickpeas (1 can)
~100g tahini paste (Alnatura brand / Karma Coop brand / bio store brands like Rapunzel or try the white tahini pastes available in middle-eastern sections or stores for a really creamy treat)
~2 garlic cloves
~2 tablespoons lemon juice
Seasoning: ground cumin and coriander, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper. Grated horseradish would also be good, or some fresh parsley and dill on the summer.
A few splashes of water, as necessary for desired consistency
Blend everything together, taste, and adjust the seasoning to your liking.