Get reacquainted with the worthy and worthwhile rutabaga

  • A plate of rutabaga fries looks good enough to forget potatoes for a while.

    A plate of rutabaga fries looks good enough to forget potatoes for a while. Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

 
 
Updated 4/7/2022 1:08 PM

It all started when a local farmer ran out of sweet potatoes. I was shopping for a class where we were making sweet potato planks topped with a spinach-feta mixture. "Here, you can take this instead, no charge," he said as he handed me a gnarly lump about the size of a cabbage. I took the large rutabaga home and did some research, as I'd not cooked with one before.

I learned why these root veggies never appeared on my childhood table. They were associated with food shortages during World War I and World War II, and those unhappy memories made rutabaga deeply unpopular once other produce was available. I vaguely remember rutabagas being disparaged by my elders as the lowliest of vegetables.

 
The rutabaga: A vegetable in dire need of a makeover.
The rutabaga: A vegetable in dire need of a makeover. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

The name comes from Swedish "rotabagge," which translates to "root bag" or "baggy root." Either way, not a great enticement. However, it explains why rutabaga is sometimes called a Swedish turnip and why the Brits call them swedes. It's a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. Turnips are smaller, round and white. Sometimes they have a pretty purple tinge on top. They are much better looking than the large, brown, lumpy rutabaga. But beauty is only skin deep.

The rutabaga has a sweeter taste and creamier texture once cooked. Its skin is thicker and needs to be peeled, but it is so worthwhile. I cut the rutabaga into chunks, and the kiddos sliced it into fry-shaped rectangles. We tossed them with olive oil, smoked paprika, salt and pepper and roasted them until they were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. They were delicious when they were topped with parsley and served with a quick homemade ketchup (using previously frozen, then thawed, whole garden tomatoes). The transformation from beginning to end was revelatory. Several kids asked me to share the recipe with their parents so that they can make it again, and I share it with you now.

You can throw in other tubers and roots to make carrot, beet, parsnip and sweet potato "fries." Rutabaga is also wonderful in soups and stews or mashed with some potatoes. I urge you to give it a try. The deeply misunderstood vegetable deserves a better reputation.

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• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and teaches people how to grow and cook "real" food. She runs Farmhouse School on a historic homestead in Campton Hills. See the school's Facebook or Instagram pages @FarmhouseSchool or contact Leslie at food@dailyherald.com.

Small hands can help with the seasoning and tossing the fries on the pan.
Small hands can help with the seasoning and tossing the fries on the pan. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith
Rutabaga "Fries"

One large rutabaga, peeled and cut into -inch spears

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper, to taste

cup fresh parsley, chopped

Ketchup or lime and Sriracha-spiked Greek yogurt, to serve

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Toss rutabaga spears in a bowl with the oil and seasonings to coat. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet for about 20 minutes, then flip. Continue cooking another 15 minutes or until they turn brown in spots and get crispy. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley. Dip into ketchup or plain Greek yogurt with lime juice and a little Sriracha.

Serves about 4

Leslie Meredith

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