Hello, my name is Sam, and I’m a parsnip addict.
I like parsnips so much that I buy them in five-pound bags from one of my favorite farmer’s market vendors, Denison Farm, and wind up eating most of them myself in salads, with hummus or just sliced up on their own. This is kind of funny because the first time I made a recipe using parsnips, I didn’t even know what they looked like.
Turns out parsnips are kind of like big, white carrots, but the taste is much different. They’re starchy and dense with a sweet flavor that has subtle overtones which are hard to put your finger on. One of the people at Denison asked if I tasted coconut, and in theirs, I kind of do! Raw parsnips are a bit on the dry side, but they get creamy when cooked in things like soup or stew. You can also roast them like you would potatoes or other root veggies to give them a crisp exterior with a soft center.
Another way to enjoy these unique and tasty veggies is to mash them up with potatoes, which is what the Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with Rustic Parsnip Crust
from Forks Over Knives – The Cookbook has you do. I’ve come across similar concepts before such as Robin Robertson’s “Mashed Potatoes and Company” and Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s “Caulipots,” but I had never tried it with parsnips.
Which is part of the reason why I had my eye on this recipe, another part being the phrase “rustic parsnip crust” in the title. Who can resist fabulous foodie marketing like that? (I see you all laughing at me. Go ahead. I’m not too proud to admit being a sucker for a good recipe gimmick.) To make that crust, I cooked and mashed up nearly one-and-a-half pounds of potatoes and parsnips combined for the pie as a whole.
The lentils, onions, carrots and celery for the filling get cooked separately while the potatoes and parsnips are boiling so that everything comes together at once. I found that the lentils turned out kind of soupy even though I used less water than was called for. I prefer to be given exact ratio–this recipe just said “enough to cover the lentils by 3 inches.” I wound up draining some of the liquid off, not knowing that it was going to become part of the gravy-like filling of the pie. Consequentially, the finished product was a bit less soupy than it should have been.
Believe it or not, the amount of parsnips and potatoes I made was barely enough to cover the filling. I used the size baking dish recommended in the recipe, but perhaps I should have gone a size down–or mashed more potatoes and parsnips, since my pie worked out to be four servings instead of the six to eight suggested. That, and I had to get creative with spreading the topping. I have a recurring problem with “leaky” dinner pies, whether they’re potato- or biscuit-topped. I never seem to be able to seal in the filling so that it doesn’t bubble over.
But, as you can see, it all worked out in the end. The spices for the filling are simple: just a bit of rosemary, bay leaf and black pepper. I didn’t have any bay leaves when I made this, so I substituted some dried thyme because I’m a big fan of thyme in stews and gravies. It smelled pretty darn amazing when it was cooking, and the taste wasn’t too bad, either! It had that “meaty” feel that lentils lend to plant-based dishes, and the parsnips added something special to the mashed potatoes. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what, but the texture wasn’t quite the same as regular mashed potatoes and the flavor was a bit different. Perhaps it was due to the fact that parsnips, when left in the ground during a frost or placed in cold storage, become sweeter as some of their starch converts to sugar (Murray, 2005).
As with all plant-based dishes, you get a boatload of nutrition from eating this pie. (It’s really more of a casserole, but who am I to argue with tradition?) The parsnips alone provide a range of vitamins including C, K, B5 and folate along with minerals like potassium and manganese (Parsnip, n.d.). The folic acid content alone in one cup of cooked parsnips is 23 percent of the daily value (Murray, 2005)!
Plus, the 5 percent dietary fiber content in 100 grams of raw parsnips contains both soluble and insoluble types of fiber such as cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin (Parsnip, n.d.). These are the kinds of fiber that not only keep you regular but also promote overall digestive health by feeding beneficial intestinal bacteria. Hemicellulose is responsible for binding with cholesterol and helping to clear it out of the body (Murray, 2005).
Despite being white and not a vibrant color normally associated with antioxidants, parsnips also possess anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties (Parsnip, n.d.). Combine that with the carotenes in the carrots and the wealth of vitamins and minerals in the potatoes and you have a literal recipe for nutritional success.
And it tastes good. Comfort food good. Can you beat it?
No, you really can’t.
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Parsnip. (n.d.). In WebMD. Retrieved March 21, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsnip
Murray, M., Pizzorno, J., Pizzorno, L. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Simon and Schuster