Dear Eric: Can you offer some recipes for cooking parsnips? I see them in stores and I’m never sure what to do with them.
Dear Anita: It’s not a surprise that you and others I’ve heard from are unsure how to prepare parsnips. It’s a vegetable that doesn’t garner a lot of attention and looks play a role.
Unlike a vibrant-green bunch of asparagus or shimmering red pepper, a parsnip would never win a vegetable beauty contest. This root vegetable is a dull pale yellow/ivory colour, has rough skin and is a little bumpy. Those qualities make it easy to ignore in the supermarket when other, more brightly coloured vegetables smile at you.
However, once you get to know more about parsnips, you’ll be more likely to bring some home. Because of the vegetable’s historical connection, people with European backgrounds have long been the ones more likely to do that.
According to the Ontario Foodland website, in the Middle Ages, especially during Lent, Europeans favoured the parsnip because of its flavour, nourishment and ability to satisfy hunger through meatless fasting periods. In fact, they note that parsnips once enjoyed greater popularity than either potatoes or carrots.
Europeans still enjoy parsnips, a fondness many immigrants brought with them. Others have also bought in, since parsnips are now widely available in Canada.
With regard to nourishment, parsnips appeal because they contain folic acid, potassium, fibre, vitamin C and other good things.
As for flavour, parsnips are appealingly earthy, slightly nutty, almost buttery and sweet — a great package of tastes that gets even better when accented with complementary ingredients.
Parsnips are related to carrots and can be prepared in similar ways to them and potatoes, such as boiling, steaming, sautéing and even deep-frying. Made by cutting the vegetable into french-fry-like strips and deep-frying them until tender inside and golden on the outside, parsnip fries are as good or even better than the now-popular sweet potato or yam fries.
According to the U.K. Food Guide website, ukfoodguide.net, unlike carrots, parsnips are almost always eaten cooked, as they tend to be fibrous when raw. They note that unless you’re puréeing them, you should be careful not to overcook them, as their flavour is sweetest when just tender.
Parsnips are also wonderful to use in stews and braised dishes, and in mashed or puréed-vegetable side dishes. As you’ll see by today’s recipes, two other ways to prepare parsnips include whirling them into a soup or roasting them. Try either and I’m guessing you’ll be cooking parsnips more often.
When buying parsnips, choose firm, bright-looking ones free of cracks and dark and/or soft spots. Store in a plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper. In prime condition, they’ll keep two weeks or more.
Eric Akis is the author of the just published hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything.
Maple-Roasted Parsnips with Pecans and Cranberries
Earthy parsnips roasted until tender with cranberries, pecans and spices would make a nice side dish for roast pork, Cornish hen, turkey or chicken, baked ham, or baked salmon fillets.
Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus soaking time
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Makes: Six servings
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 lbs parsnips
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp melted butter
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup pecans halves
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley or mint
Place the cranberries in a bowl. Cover with one cup of warm water and let stand at room temperature one hour. Drain cranberries and reserve.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Peel parsnips and cut lengthwise in half. Slice the parsnips, widthwise, into 1/2-inch pieces. Place the parsnips in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Add the maple syrup, stock, lemon juice, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and mix to combine.
Roast the parsnips, uncovered, 20 minutes. Mix in the pecans and cranberries and roast 10 minutes more. Give the parsnips a stir and then roast another 10 minutes, until nicely glazed and tender. Spoon into a serving dish, sprinkle with parsley or mint, and serve.
Curried Parsnip and Apple Soup with Almonds, Yogurt and Mint
Mild, curry-spiced, Indian-style parsnip soup accented with sweet apple, fresh mint, rich almonds and tangy yogurt.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Makes: Six servings
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb parsnips, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh ginger
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp mild curry powder
4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 large or 2 small red apples, peeled, cored and cubed
• salt to taste
• plain yogurt to taste
1/4 cup toasted, sliced almonds (see note)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
Place the oil in a medium to large pot set over medium heat. Add the parsnips, onion and ginger and cook until softened, about five minutes. Mix in the flour and curry powder and cook and stir two minutes more. While stirring, slowly pour in the stock. Mix in the lime juice and apples.
Bring the soup to a gentle simmer. Simmer soup until the parsnips and apples are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Purée the soup in a blender or food processor, or in the pot with an immersion blender. Return the soup to a simmer; season with salt.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Top each bowl with a dollop of yogurt, and a sprinkling of almonds and mint, then serve.
Note: To toast the almonds, place in a non-stick skillet set over medium heat. Cook the almonds a few minutes, swirling the pan from time to time, until lightly toasted.
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