KITCHEN SHRINK: Let’s get back to our roots, Part 2


By Catharine Kaufman


Following last week’s column, here’s more folklore and facts on some additional root veggies. At the end, you can test your knowledge through a fun quiz.

The French onion

The shallot, although not a true root like a carrot or a turnip, is still considered a root as its bulb grows underground. Although the shallot is a close cousin to the onion, it forms clusters or cloves like garlic.

France is one of the largest producers of shallots, along with the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Chile, New Hampshire and New Jersey are secondary players, but to the shallot snob, Brittany is the spiritual home of this culinary gem.

The delicate translucent flesh tinged with magenta streaks is sweeter and has a more refined texture and aroma than onions, putting this member of the lily family on the A-list among top chefs. Mince in vinaigrette dressings, artichoke dips, combine with assorted olives for a tapenade over grilled fish, add to a red wine sauce for lamb or beef, toss with wild mushrooms or in a frittata.

The shallot, like onions, exudes a chemical that irritates the tear ducts, but is more forgiving on the breath and easier to digest. Of course, it’s costlier than the onion since it’s usually imported.

There are hundreds of shallot varieties with various colors and shapes. When shallot shopping, pick firm, symmetrical bulbs without wrinkled skin or sprouting, which means they’re past their prime.

Sweet potatoes and yams are not created equal

Popular in the Southern U.S., where they were cultivated since the 16th century, sweet potatoes are an orange- or golden-fleshed dicotyledon tuber belonging to the morning glory (Convolvulaceae) family. The yam, native to Africa and Asia, is usually imported from Latin America and is a monocot tuber of the Dioscoreaceae family.

The appearances and textures of these two roots differ, too: The sweet potato is stubby-shaped and taper-ended with a smooth, thin skin ranging from red and purple to brown; the yam is elongated and cylindrical with scaly, rough skin varying in color from dark brown to light pink.

The former is also moist and sweet and loaded with vitamins C, B6, iron, potassium, calcium and folic acid, and significantly higher in calcium, iron, vitamin E and beta-carotene than the yam, probably in part due to the yam’s lighter, less nutrient-rich “flesh” color.

To prevent tuber confusion, the Department of Agriculture has required that the sweet potato casually labeled “yam” also include the “sweet potato” tagline.

Although a personal culinary preference, I’d pick sweet potatoes over yams — it’s a creamy complex carb that can be concocted into sweet and savory dishes, from a yummy baby food to divine soups, stews, quick breads, nut pies, custards, croquettes, latkes, fries or shredded raw in salads, adding a splash of eye candy to any meal. Sweet potato pairs well with coconut, ginger, lime, cinnamon, nutmeg and honey. As an added bonus, these dishes freeze well.

Root Quiz

This root has a higher glycemic index than potatoes. (The carbohydrate is rapidly converted into sugar and absorbed into the blood.)
    a) rutabagasb) carrotsc) parsnipsd) turnips

Carrots first domesticated in Afghanistan, contained an anthocyanin pigment giving them the color

    a) redb) purplec) oranged) black

a, b and d
Since the 16th century, beet juice was used as a natural

    a) freckle removerb) constipation curec) hair dyed) rat repellent

Rutabagas, the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables, have a yearly per capita consumption in the United States of

    a) 5 poundsb) 3 poundsc) 2 poundsd) less than 1 pound

In India, some sects refuse to eat this root because of its alleged aphrodisiac properties:

    a) potatoesb) turnipsc) rutabagasd) onions

Answers: 1.c), 2.e), 3.c), 4.d), 5.d)
My final root contribution is a dessert: delicious candied sweet potato bake that’s wonderful for the holidays and year-round.

Pecan Candied Sweet Potatoes


    • 5 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cubed, cooked• 4 eggs• 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice• 1/2 tablespoon fresh orange juice• 2 tablespoons vanilla or almond extract• 2 teaspoons salt


    • 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans• 1/4 cup unsalted butter, 1-inch slices• 1 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl, blend the sugar, nuts, butter and refrigerate. Grease a rectangular baking dish (13 x 9 inches). Puree the sweet potatoes in a processor. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, extract, juices and salt. Blend in the puree. Spoon into the baking dish and top with the pecan mixture.

Bake for 1 hour or until the topping bubbles and the casserole is set.

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