New guide goes from Arrowhead to Yuca

Eats roots and leaves
By LAURA MCCANDLISH  |  February 13, 2013

If you want to eat more local produce come winter in Maine, you have to learn to love root vegetables. It's no chore. A rainbow of storage beets, tri-color carrots, watermelon radishes, rutabagas, and, of course, potatoes (tubers, and anything else that grows underground counts here) abound at the Brunswick farmers' market, even into February. My new favorite is the ugly duckling celeriac, which is nutty and sweet, almost like fresh artichoke hearts, when roasted. This gnarly, dirt-crusted ball, cultivated for its starchy root rather than its stalk, is in fact related to wild celery, a member of the parsley family (which also has a root variety).

The unfamiliar celery root, and even more obscure burdock, gave birth to a beautiful new tome, Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes. It's widely praised as one of the best cookbooks of 2012, and is written by veteran food writer Diane Morgan, based in the other Portland. (There are also vivid botanical photographs by Antonis Achilleos and a lyrical foreword by vegetable expert Deborah Madison, invoking metaphors of rootedness and getting back to our roots.)

A weekly trip to the farmers' market inspired Morgan. As she reached for that celery root, a woman asked, "What is that?" Morgan described how she cubes celeriac for soup, mashes it like potatoes (with twice a potato's iron and five times its dietary fiber, to boot), and tosses chunks in olive oil, salt, and pepper, for high-heat roasting. At the same stand, Morgan finds herself perplexed by a scraggly brown root she learns is burdock, a Japanese delicacy and herbal remedy in Chinese medicine. She then realized we needed this book to guide us through this "underworld" of vegetables that swell beneath the dirt.

Despite its locavore ethos, Morgan's Roots is a true global primer, an alphabetical index of everything from Andean tubers to lotus root to Caribbean malanga (American taro) and fresh wasabi. And don't forget regular horseradish root, which is not just for Passover, but a food trend to watch: see Morgan's recipe for horseradish-potato gnocchi. Her radish section alone includes common table radishes; Asian ones such as long, white daikon; and black-skinned, hearty Russian radishes. With a nod to frugality, Morgan encourages us to embrace the roots' often-discarded greens. See her recipes for radish green soup and salsa verde, carrot top pesto and vegetarian Creole gumbo z'herbes with turnip greens, traditionally served on Good Friday.

So what defines a root vegetable? Surprisingly, Morgan reveals kohlrabi — actually a swollen, above-ground brassica stem — is not one. Her vast book focuses on tap roots, tuberous roots, corms (think water chestnuts), stem tubers. and even rhizomes. Morgan includes recipes for fresh, whole ginger, turmeric and galangal, all now grown in hoop houses by enterprising farmers here in Maine (see "Taking Root," by Laura McCandlish, November 9, 2012). Alliums, edible buds like garlic and onions, would require another book, though they feature in most of the savory recipes.

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  Topics: Books , Recipes, cooking, yuca
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