Above ground, they don’t look like much. You may see them in a garden and wonder at the leafy stalks, the bunched green stems poking out of the earth in disorganized bunches. But a quick tug will soon reveal that, when it comes to root vegetables, the real magic happens below ground.
What are root vegetables
Root vegetables are quite literally the fruits of the earth, the hearty bulbs that swell and thrive beneath the soil. Flashier plants and trees will suspend networks of roots below ground, catching nutrients from the soil and using this energy to grow up and out. Root vegetables do things a little differently. Unlike eye-catching floral blooms or fragrant herbs, where the leaves are the coveted parts of the plant, root vegetables prize—you guessed it—the hard-working roots.
The root vegetables themselves absorb nutrients from the soil, fortifying them as some of the heartiest, healthiest foods you can find in the fall. Plus, pulling up your root vegetables at harvest time to reveal full orange carrots or bright beets is as exciting as discovering buried treasure.
Types of root vegetables
Root vegetables come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Some of the most common root vegetables are:
- Onions and shallots
- Sweet potatoes
How to grow root vegetables
Root vegetables are relatively easy to grow and, in the case of an abundant fall harvest, reap plentiful rewards. To grow root vegetables, you’ll need a loose, ideally raised soil bed. The key to growing root vegetables is ensuring that the soil is loose enough for the plants to send down roots. They grow best in cool weather, so you’ll want to plant your vegetables in mid to late summer for a fall harvest. Full sun exposure is ideal for growing root vegetables.
When growing root vegetables, it’s important to be meticulous and intentional in their spacing. Root vegetables need space to grow, and since the seeds are so small, you may have to wait a few weeks after first sowing and go back and adjust the plants’ spacing. Ideally, you want to space the vegetables 2 to 4 inches apart (potatoes, however, will need much more space).
How to cook root vegetables
Root vegetables form the foundation of so many of our favorite fall dishes, from hearty vegetable roasts to seasonal stews. They can be roasted, fried, boiled, or mashed; this season, we’re loading root vegetables into lean winter salads, like Kale and Sweet Potato Salad with Chicken.
Just as root vegetables can play the supporting act in seasonal dishes, they’re the star of the show in our favorite holiday sides. Our Thanksgiving table isn’t complete without tender, slightly-sweet Roasted Carrots with Pecans and Sorghum. If you're looking for a hearty vegetable side, you can't beat Grilled Root Vegetables with Charred Scallion Aioli. And if you want something a bit more indulgent (read: deep-fried), try our Root Vegetable Fritters. Those farm-fresh potatoes will impress all your guests and bring some serious rustic charm to your potato sides. Then combat the post-holiday slump with a hearty bowl of big-batch Beer-Braised Beef Tips with Root Vegetables and Horseradish.
Sometimes, the stems can be just as valuable as the vegetables themselves—like in the case of turnips, where the turnip greens can be repurposed as a lovely lettuce. Remember to eat your greens and your roots this season.
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