It’s autumn, and all the little forest critters have gone to ground. Trees have shed their leaves, and their limbs have stopped growing, as they send their life energy deep into their roots for the dark months. As the light wanes, we head indoors, into books, and under the covers for rest and renewal. Just so, we should change our menus: Chinese nutritional theory tells us that we should shift away from leaves and fruits, to eat root vegetables in the fall. Their nutrient-dense vitality will help us get through the colder months.
Recipes abound, for soups, side dishes, and salads made with root vegetables. Check the internet, or peruse the many excellent cookbooks at the Co-op, BookPeople or the public library. Here, I’ll share some inspiring facts about roots. Did you know:
1. Sweet potatoes: Japanese, jewell, garnet. For sheer flavor, sweet potatoes top my list of root vegetables. Bake them in a casserole with raisins, prunes and marshmallows, if, like me, you are missing Grandma Harriet’s Thanksgiving standard. For those of us who partake of Tofurkey only, check out the vegan marshmallows the Co-op carries! And, nursing mothers take note: eating sweet potatoes increases the quantity of your milk, the better to fatten baby up for winter.
2. Parsnips, like all root vegetables, alkalinize the body’s pH. Balancing out the acid-forming foods that abound in the modern western diet, roots like parsnips bring our bodies’ pH into the range that improves all our healthy physiological functioning, protecting against cancer, diabetes, and inflamation. And these beauties have a mild flavor that makes them work in sweet or savory dishes.
3. Have you placed your bet as to the weight of the giant pumpkin just inside the Co-op’s west entrance? The world’s largest turnip, also known in England as a swede, was harvested in September, 2011, weighing in at 85.5 pounds. It’s grower, Ian, a retired Welsh farmer, had this advice for his turnip’s admirers: 'You have got to put a lot into it, you've got to let it take over your life. If you are not going to try to win, then don't do it.'
4. Daikon radish tea is an easy, effective remedy for the runny noses and wet coughs of fall and winter. Chop a couple of thick slices and simmer them in 3 cups of water, with the lid on, for 20 minutes. Drink 2 to 3 cups a day, and your runny nose will dry up post haste.
5. Let us not forget the humble potato (technically, a stem tuber: never mind), that edible icon of our great state. A friend of mine is married to a forensic accountant. A high point of his career was uncovering a ring of counterfeit Idaho potatoes that were being peddled by some shady gang in Europe, where our state’s root carries quite a cachet, and a high price per pound. We guard our interest in this vegetable jealously: Even the same species of potato, if grown just over the state line in Washington, mere steps beyond Moscow’s western town limit, may not be called an Idaho potato. Heads up, Cougars.
Beets. Celeriac. Carrots. Go sweet, or go savory, but do go check out the Co-op’s produce department. It is hard to go amiss with these nourishing, grounding vegetables. Rutabaga, anyone?