Welcome to the fifth and final post in my Plant-Based Winter series on winter vegetables! Spring is fast approaching, but most of these veggies are still readily available in stores and at year-round farmers markets. Catch up on the others to get all the tasty info:
- Part 1: Pleasing Persimmons
- Part 2: Delicious Daikon
- Part 3: Compelling Cranberries
- Part 4: Astounding Artichokes
Root vegetables are some of my favorites. Carrots, parsnips, beets, radishes, kohlrabi, turnips and, of course, today’s feature: rutabagas!
A Rutabaga By Any Other Name
Depending on where you live, you might have heard a rutabaga called by many different names: swede, Swedish turnip, yellow turnip or even neep. (This last one is thanks to its scientific name, Brassica napus.) All these names refer to a globe-shaped root with a purple blush on top and a yellow-orange bottom. Like cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, rutabagas are brassicas and have the same characteristic bitter overtones to their flavor. Their hardy nature means they store well, so you’ll find them hanging on long into the winter and even early spring without losing firmness or flavor.
Rutabagas were created by crossing cabbages with turnips and may have originated in either Scandinavia or Russia. The vegetable spread around the world from the 1600s to the 1800s and is now found as a staple in most grocery stores, at farmers markets and in the gardens of brassica lovers.
Real Rutabaga Nutrition
As with other brassicas, both the root and leaves of rutabagas are edible. They may be consumed raw or cooked in a variety of recipes and provide similar health benefits to other plants in the cruciferous family.
Eating 100 grams of rutabaga roots gives you:
- 2 grams of fiber
- 1 gram of protein
- 30 percent daily value of vitamin C
- Modest amounts of B vitamins
- Modest amounts of potassium and other trace minerals
All for just 39 calories! (Unfortunately, I had a hard time finding nutritional information for the leaves, but I think it’s safe to assume they’re good for you in similar ways to other leafy greens, including antioxidant and fiber content.) Vitamin C boosts immunity and is an important nutrient in collagen synthesis.Potassium helps maintain a proper sodium-potassium balance for cell health, promotes healthy cardiovascular function and partners with other nutrients to make sure muscles work as they should.
Rutabagas contain glucosinolates, a compound found in many brassicas with the potential to lower your risk of developing certain types of cancer. Acting as antioxidants, these compounds help neutralize free radicals in the body before they can damage cells, preventing mutations that could potentially lead to the formation of tumors.
And, of course, there’s the all-important dietary fiber and its power to keep your gut healthy! Notice how every fruit and vegetable in this series has this important component? It’s hard not to get enough fiber on a plant-based diet as long as you concentrate on eating whole, unprocessed foods the majority of the time. High fiber intake creates a strong, diverse microbiome and promotes the integrity of the colonic wall to reduce the risk of complications from poor digestion, including constipation and food allergies.
Dr. Axe has an attractive chart and infographic showing the nutritional content and benefits of rutabagas, along with some fun facts on their history and preparation.
Selecting and Preparing Rutabagas
Looking for the perfect rutabaga? You want a tuber with few or no holes and a firm texture free of bruises. Select rutabagas that feel heavy for their size and have an even color.
Many rutabagas are coated with wax to make them stay fresh longer, but removing the wax means removing the skin, too. Unlike that of some winter vegetables, the skin of the rutabaga is edible. Look for varieties without the wax to get the full benefit of the nutrients found in vegetable skins. If you can’t find an unwaxed variety, use a knife and a vegetable peeler to remove as much of the wax as possible before using.
Enjoy your (wax-free) rutabaga:
- Raw with hummus or another healthy dip
- Chopped in salads
- Roasted with your favorite seasonings or a bit of maple syrup
- Cooked and mashed on its own or mixed with other root vegetables (try parsnips, turnips or celeriac)
Want specific recipes to follow? Try these tasty sources:
- Finding Vegan’s archive of rutabaga recipes— Including fries and an inventive rutabaga gnocchi!
- Kale and Rutabaga Lasagna from Inspiralized — Layers of rutabaga slices, cashew cheese and garlic kale with tomato-basil sauce
- Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Rutabaga with Hazelnuts — This recipes from, of all places, Martha Stewart, uses maple syrup to create a sweet veggie side dish (omit the oil for a truly whole-food, plant-based option)
Root veggies store well, and rutabagas are no exception. Keep them whole, or store leftovers in a sealed plastic bag, in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
I’ll admit it — my favorite way to enjoy rutabaga is raw! How about you? I’d love to hear how you incorporate this root veggie into your own meals!