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Three ways to use up root vegetables

  • Root vegetable borscht<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Root vegetable borscht

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Daikon and orange salad<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Daikon and orange salad

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Sauteed rutabagas<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Sauteed rutabagas

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Root vegetable borscht<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Daikon and orange salad<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Sauteed rutabagas<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

March is the month when gardeners begin starting seeds inside and eating the last of the vegetables stored in their root cellars. They’re called “root” cellars for a reason, because roots, like carrots, rutabagas, storage radishes (such as daikon) and beets, are what keep there best.

This is because most root vegetables are designed for a winter of storage below ground. They’re biennials; that is, they live for two years. The first season, they turn out leaves above ground for photosynthesis, and large swollen tubers below ground in which to store energy for the following year. If left in place or replanted in spring, these tubers would send up flowers in their second year of growth, go to seed, and, having reproduced successfully, die.

At the end of the winter, stored root vegetables have a remarkable ability to tell that their second growing season is approaching. This is why garlic and onions go green in the center and send out shoots, and why carrots and beets send up new greenery, even in the dark of a refrigerator produce drawer. This new growth quickly uses up the sugar and moisture stored in the root, turning it flaccid and bitter.

Once such signs of life sprout from root vegetables, they have to be used immediately. Here are three ways to do so: The first is a salty-sweet saute of rutabagas, though the recipe would work well with other root vegetables, especially parsnips.

The next is an Asian-inspired salad for one of those days when spring fever has you yearning for something light and refreshing. And finally, I give you my recipe for a traditional borscht, perfect for the lion days of March, it’s a sure way to warm up when it feels like winter just may never end.

Rutabaga with e_SFlbOrange and Bacon

4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into ¼-inch pieces

1 rutabaga, about 1¼ pounds, peeled and cut into 1∕2-inch chunks

juice and grated rind of one large orange

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

several gratings of nutmeg or ¼ teaspoon ground (or to taste)

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, then add the bacon pieces and cook until they’re light brown (don’t overcook). Remove the bacon and drain it on a piece of paper towel.

Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and add the rutabaga pieces. Put a lid on the skillet and cook the pieces undisturbed for about 5 minutes over medium-low heat, allowing them to caramelize on the bottom. Flip the pieces and let them brown on the other side.

At this point, the rutabaga should be starting to get tender. Add the bacon back to the pan, along with the juice and rind, paprika, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Cook with the lid off so the orange juice reduces and thickens, which should happen quickly.

Taste the rutabaga and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

If the pieces of rutabaga are not soft enough, add a little water or more orange juice to the pan, put the lid on it and allow the contents to steam for a few minutes, until done. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Daikon and Fresh Orange Salad with Sesame Oil Dressing

2 medium navel oranges

1∕2 pound daikon

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1∕2 teaspoon ground hot red pepper (or to taste)

2 scallions, minced

sea salt to taste

Peel the oranges, then pull each apart into two halves. Lay the halves, one at a time, flat-side down on a cutting board and use a very sharp knife to cut them into the thinnest possible half-moons.

Place the orange slices in a bowl and set aside.

Peel the daikon and cut it into chunks about 3 inches long.

Cut these into thirds the long way, then slice the thirds the long way into the thinnest pieces you can manage (this is easily done with a mandoline – otherwise, be sure your knife is sharp). Add to the oranges.

Add the sesame oil and vinegar to the oranges and daikon and toss. Taste, and if you like, add a little more oil or vinegar to balance the flavor.

Divide the salad between four plates.

Sprinkle each serving with ¼ of the scallions and ¼ of the hot
pepper.

Dust with a little sea salt and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Borscht

2 tablespoons oil, such as sunflower

2 pounds very meaty beef shanks (or other meaty beef soup bones)

1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 to 3 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped, divided

1 quart beef, chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade

1 quart water

16 ounces canned tomatoes, chopped (use juice and tomatoes)

4 cups sliced red cabbage (about
1∕2 pound)

2 medium beets, peeled and grated (about 3∕4 pound)

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons dill seed and 1
teaspoon fennel seed, ground together in a spice grinder

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 cup hard apple cider or 1 scant cup sweet cider with 1 tablespoon cider vinegar added

3 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 1∕2-inch chunks

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (or to taste)

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

sour cream or yogurt and chopped fresh dill, for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot, then add the beef shanks and brown well on both sides. Remove the shanks and set aside, then add the onion and half of the carrots.

Brown these well, too, adjusting the heat if necessary so the bottom of the pot doesn’t blacken.

When the vegetables are browned around the edges, add the water and stock and stir well, scraping the bottom of the pot so the caramelized juices mix into the liquid. Return the beef shanks to the pot and bring it to a simmer.

Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and allow the mixture to cook for about 1½ hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone and tender. During this time, occasionally remove the lid and scoop off any foam and excess fat that has accumulated on top of the stock and discard it.

When the meat is tender, remove it and bones and set aside. Pour the stock through a strainer to remove the carrots and onion. Discard the vegetables.

At this point, the meat and bones can be returned to the stock and the mixture can be chilled in an ice bath then refrigerated overnight before finishing the borscht the following day.

If this is done, remove the coagulated fat from the top of the stock and discard it before continuing with the recipe. If continuing straight on with the recipe, try to remove some of the fat floating on the stock before continuing.

Pull or cut the shank meat into chunks. Put the stock in a large soup pot and add to it the remaining carrot, the tomatoes, cabbage, beets, garlic, dill and fennel, bay leaf, paprika and cider.

Place a lid on the pot and bring the mixture to a simmer, then remove the lid and continue simmering until the beets are beginning to get tender, about 30 minutes.

Add the potatoes, salt and pepper and continue simmering until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. The soup can be served immediately, but it is even better if cooled and refrigerated overnight. Reheat if necessary, then divide between soup bowls.

Garnish each with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and a hefty sprinkling of chopped fresh dill. Serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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