People often find big, gnarly, thick-skinned root vegetables intimating. This time of the year in the Northwest they're plentiful and locally available. Usually, root vegetables are stored in a cellar or dark shed. I know farmers that keep root vegetables covered in dirt so they keep moist. In a cold storage environment their starches are converted into natural sugars, which creates an addictive sweetness to roots when cooked.
Root vegetables are soothing and make me feel grounded. In addition, they deliver tons of fiber that makes me feel satiated, and those converted natural sugars disperse slow-burning carbohydrates into the blood stream. These root vegetable carbs disperse terrific energy without creating a sugar high in our bodies. It’s a high very unlike that of refined sugar from candy, white flour products or sugary soda, which send you into the sugar stratosphere and then send your energy levels crashing. Root vegetable carbs disperse slowly through the blood into the system and deliver consistent energy. On another note, many root vegetables are packed with antioxidants, which strengthen the immune system—very important for the cold season in order to stay healthy.
My favorite way to cook root vegetables is known as the Japanese kinpira way. Kinpira can be explained as braising. It is a cooking style where vegetables are first sautéed and then water or a liquid is added that lets the vegetables soften without burning them. I favor this cooking style since root vegetables tend to have rather hard textures and hence take a while to get to an enjoyable texture and addictive gusto. You may have heard of "caramelizing onions"—that's exactly what happens in kinpira cooking. The natural sugars of the onions are drawn to the surface and create tasty roasted/caramelized sweetness.
My favorite vegetables as of late are burdock roots and carrots. The kinpira cooking technique is supported by a small amount of light soy sauce and miso, which rounds the flavors out beautifully.
Root Vegetable Kinpira
(recipe yields four servings)
12 oz burdock root, peeled and cut into 1/8"-thick slices
12 oz carrots, cut into 1/8"-thick slices
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as olive or sunflower oil
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown miso paste
1-inch piece of ginger with the thickness of your pinky finger, finely chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Black pepper from the mill, to taste
1) Heat a gallon-sized pot on medium heat, add the oil and the vegetables. Add two pinches of sea salt. Stirring every 2 minutes, cook the vegetables for 10 minutes.
2) Add 1/2 cup of water, soy sauce, ginger and 5 grindings of pepper and cover pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cook mixture for 10 minutes.
3) Turn heat off, add miso, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, then stir. Let mixture sit for 5 minutes, then serve.
…more root cooking
Over the last few weeks I’ve tried the following seasonal root vegetable variations cooked in the kinpira style recipe from above. Use the recipe above as a base.
- celery root & red onions seasoned with 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg powder
- parsley root & quarter-inch cubed red beets
- parsnips & sliced purple turnips
- rutabaga cut into quarter-inch cubes & halved garlic cloves