I have a theory: I think that fall and winter are the easiest times of year for healthy eating. Yes, I realize I’m putting “easy” and “healthy eating” in the same sentence as the seasons that bring us a never-ending onslaught of Halloween candy, stuffing, pie, and holiday parties. But! In addition to the sugar-laden pumpkin spice lattes and ubiquitous fun-sized Snickers, fall also brings us some of the most flavorful, versatile, and nutrient-dense fixins, straight from the soil: the humble root vegetable. From the homely yet rich-tasting celery root to the velvety, sweet parsnip, these unassuming, thick-skinned vegetables prove the old adage that beauty is only skin deep. Behold, a few of our favorite ways to sneak a little extra root veggie goodness into your diet.
Benefits: Antioxidants, Vitamin A, beta carotene
Plays Well With: Star anise, apple, cardamom, cinnamon, coconut, cumin, hazelnut, orange, and walnut
Packed with antioxidant-rich beta-carotene and a walloping punch of Vitamin A (113.2 percent of your daily needs in just one cup), the carrot isn’t just nutritionally dense — it’s also way more versatile than the Bugs Bunny version you remember from your childhood. Explore your local farmers market for heirloom carrots in rich hues like purple and ruby-red, then get to cookin’. While most of us grew up on carrots that were either boiled, steamed, or just plain raw, the vegetable’s nutty sweetness lends itself to an impressive variety of preparation methods. These cinnamon- and chili powder-dusted carrot slices are roasted at 400 degrees and make for a warm and cozy side on a chilly evening. While a simple puree can be a lighter replacement for dense mashed potatoes.
Benefits: Vitamins, minerals, fiber, pretty much everything
Plays well with: Apples, goat cheese, oranges, potatoes, liver
I’ll be honest: For years, I avoided beets like the plague and only warmed up to them (ever so slowly) in the form of juices. I have a hunch that I’m probably not alone. But this polarizing, detested-by-children-everywhere vegetable is worth another shot. Rich in vitamins, fiber, minerals like iron and magnesium, and a compound called glycine betaine that can lower your blood’s homocysteine levels (more information on all of that here), the beet is also rumored to act as “nature’s Viagra,” so, sure, we’ll take it. Curious, but not enough to attempt going full borscht? Try it in a slaw, in baked chip form, or in a simple fall salad with gorgonzola — because if there’s one thing we all learned as kids, it’s that pretty much any weird food can be improved by a generous amount of cheese.
Benefits: High in fiber, folate, potassium
Plays well with: Bacon, nutmeg, pork, potato, walnuts
Like the carrot’s angelic younger sister, the parsnip is delicate and sweet, with a creamy texture when cooked and a tiny bit of earthiness in flavor. It’s impressively high in fiber, hardy enough to fry up into delicious French fries, smooth enough to go into a creamy soup with apples — what’s not to love? For the simplest route, just peel, dice, and toss in salt, oil, and the spices of your choice for a quick and easy roast. (A pinch of nutmeg will really draw out the parsnip’s nutty taste.)
Benefits: Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, potassium, fiber
Plays well with: Pretty much everything. (But especially cinnamon, cumin, paprika, curry, pecans, and nutmeg.)
When sweet potatoes come to mind, does your brain immediately picture a casserole covered in marshmallows? Gross — mine, too. At least until I did my first Whole30, where sweet potatoes emerged as the dark horse of dietary staples. When you remove brown sugar and marshmallows from the equation, sweet potatoes are as diverse, versatile, and delicious as they are good for you (which, judging by their sky-high levels of beta carotene, is saying a lot). Got a food processor? Use the shredding disc (yep, that’s what that thing’s for) to turn a couple of peeled sweet potatoes into a killer breakfast hash (this is especially good when used with spices like cumin and smoked paprika). This wonderful tuber will take pretty much anything you throw at it and make it better: chili, curry, bacon, even good ol’ wing sauce.
Benefits: High in fiber, manganese, Vitamin B6
Plays well with: Chestnuts, apples, egg, truffle, walnuts, fennel
Oh, celery root. Bless your heart. Celeriac is arguably the Steve Buscemi of the root vegetable world: It makes me smile, but dayum, is it ugly. Not one to be stifled by its own unattractiveness, this gnarly, thick-skinned root veggie has a surprisingly appealing flavor, with an almost subtle sweetness. The possibilities, one might say, are endless — at least once you’ve successfully hacked away at the root’s leathery outer layer. Give your celeriac a fancy French makeover with this truffle-infused puree, blend it into a fennel soup for instant fall comfort food, or simply toss it into the oven with bacon and celery. Vitamin B never tasted so good.
Do you have a favorite way to prepare a root vegetable that we haven’t mentioned? Share your tips in the comments.