6 Winter Root Vegetables You Should Know

Add seasonal flavor with parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, and more.

Root vegetables aren't nearly as loved as some of their above-ground counterparts — but that's because you haven't cooked with them yet. MaraZe/Shutterstock

Pity the poor root vegetable. Dirty, misshapen, they have none of the tantalizing sexiness of tomatoes, the trendiness of kale, the smooth beauty of eggplants.

Nope, root vegetables look odd, and people have no idea what to do with them. On more than one occasion I have been accosted by someone in the grocery store wanting to know what the hairy, bulbous thing in my hand was. Telling them it's celeriac puts them no further ahead, because knowing the name of it doesn't explain what the heck you do with it.

I live in Toronto and I cook locally and seasonally, so I have more than a passing acquaintance with all manner of root vegetables. When I was a child, that is all you could get once the fall squash was gone, until the exciting arrival of asparagus in the spring. Big woody carrots, beets, rutabagas, turnips and, of course, potatoes were our vegetables. To add a little excitement, once in a while we would have frozen peas or canned corn, but all the fresh vegetables were roots.

Here's a little primer on root vegetables to get you started. Forget the green salad with dinner tonight—have a turnip instead! For some truly mouth-watering recipes, I suggest you have a look through "Roots" by Diane Morgan, a comprehensive guide and a fine collection of recipes.

1. Celeriac

Photo: nada54/Shutterstock

Also known as celery root, celeriac has a delicate celery taste that belies its knobby, hairy, bumpy appearance. But in case you're wondering, it's not the root of a celery plant, merely a relative in a family that includes carrots and parsley. After peeling, you can grate it and sauté it, use it in soups, or eat it raw in a rémoulade. In terms of texture, it's less starchy than a potato, but not as watery as jicama. It's delicious combined with potato in blended soups or mashed. Celeriac is loaded with fiber, potassium, calcium, vitamin B, vitamin C, and vitamin K.

Fun fact: This funny looking vegetable got a shout-out in Homer's "Odyssey."

Try: Moroccan Tagine with Root Vegetables

2. Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes are the tubers of sunflowers. Valentyn Volkov/Shutterstock

Neither an artichoke, nor from Jerusalem, these are the tubers of sunflowers and probably derive their name from the Italian for sunflower, "girasole." They look a bit like ginger root and have a crisp, nutty flavor, especially when sautéed. I have roasted them, pickled them, and made fantastic soups with them. They make a great substitution for potatoes, and tend to taste more sweet than starchy. Eaten raw, they're similar to a mild radish or raw chestnut.

Fun fact: Jerusalem artichokes contain the carbohydrate called inulin (not insulin!) and the body cannot digest it, which can cause bloating and flatulence. So, perhaps not a good menu item on a first date, but don't toss this aside just yet: Modern Farmer's deep dive explains that adding lemon juice will break down the inulin and voilà, social problem solved.

3. Parsnips

parsnips in a basket
Parsnips don't have the snazzy color of carrots. Heike Rau/Shutterstock

Parsnips resemble anemic carrots and are naturally quite sweet. They can be used in soups and stews and are particularly wonderful roasted. Parsnips have more vitamins than their cousin the carrot, and they have lots of potassium. FootPrint reports that parsnips are being studied for possible cancer-fighting properties, which come from a phytochemical called falcarinol.

Fun fact: While the roots are fine to touch, handling the shoots and leaves can cause a chemical burn on the skin, so it's best to wear gloves and long sleeves when gardening. Usually when sold in a store, the tops have already been removed. Look for a firm but not woody parsnip; you should not be able to bend it.

4. Rutabaga

rutabaga, winter vegetables
Rutabagas aren't pretty in the way some vegetables are, but after you cook with it, you'll feel differently. EQRoy/Shutterstock

A staple of my childhood, the rutabaga was originally a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. You can roast them, mash them, or add them to soups. Lots of vitamin C here: 100 grams will provide you with about 40% of your daily requirement. They also have lots of vitamin A and beta-carotene.

Rutabagas are often waxed to prolong their shelf life; this comes off easily with a vegetable peeler ahead of cooking. This root vegetable keeps for months in a cool cellar, or can be left in a field to overwinter.

Fun fact: If you're in England and you want rutabaga, you'll have to ask for swedes (from "Swedish turnips"). If you're in Scotland and ask for tatties and neeps, you will get potatoes and rutabagas or turnips.

5. Sweet Potatoes

Photo: mama_mia/Shutterstock

People often confuse sweet potatoes with yams, but they are different things altogether, not even within the same botanical family. Sweet potatoes are incredibly versatile and you can cook them just about any way you like—roasted, fried, boiled or baked in bread. They have lots of vitamin C and vitamin A, and they have more beta-carotene than any other vegetable. Don't store in the fridge, or it'll ruin the texture and taste. Keep in a cool, dry, well-ventilated container and use within a few weeks of purchasing.

Fun fact: Sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family and happen to be North Carolina's official state vegetable.

Bonus: How to grow sweet potatoes

6. Turnips

Photo: Abingdon Farmers Market [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

Turnips are part of the mustard family, as are horseradish, radishes and rutabagas, and are considered a cruciferous vegetable. They can be roasted, used in stews and soups. Interestingly enough, there isn't a lot of nutritional value in the turnip, other than vitamin C. Most of the nutrients reside in the greens of the plant.

Most have the classic two-tone appearance, part purple and part white, but they're not limited to that; some are all white, amber, or green. The younger the turnip, the sweeter they are, so if you see them for sale in the spring at a farmer's market, scoop them up and use in a salad.

Fun fact: Before the pumpkin took over the Halloween duties, turnips were hollowed out and used as lanterns.

Learn more: How to grow turnips