Vegan Roots

By Debra Daniels-Zeller

Autumn wouldn't be the same without root vegetables. While potatoes make most everyone's weekly shopping list, beets, carrots, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, and sweet potatoes are roots worth adding to your seasonal line-up. Carrots and beets add sparkling color, and old-fashioned parsnips and rutabagas are well-known for their earthy sweet flavors. Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac may appear to be newcomers, but they've been around for ages. Sweet potatoes are roots of a trailing tropical vine and have a long growing season. Sweet potatoes and yams are harvested before freezes begin, just as parsnips and rutabagas are settling in, ready to turn sweeter once the frost hits.

It's easy to incorporate different roots into meal plans. Try altering familiar recipes first. Celeriac, rutabagas, or turnips make perfect additions to mashed potatoes. Jerusalem artichokes, golden beets, or parsnips can be added to a roasted vegetable medley. You can also grate parsnips or rutabagas and use them like you would carrots. Instead of a carrot-raisin salad, try carrot-parsnip-raisin salad.

Each root has its own story. Peruse the history, nutrition, and cooking summaries, and try something different this year.


Beets have an extremely long history. In fact, the remains of charred ancient beets were discovered in Mediterranean archaeological sites from the Neolithic period. The Romans used beets as an aphrodisiac and to treat fever, headaches, and constipation. In the Middle Ages, beets were believed to build blood and soothe digestion. While the root was used medicinally, beet greens were served at seasonal feasts in Europe long before the humble beet hitched a ride to North America with the colonists. American farmers were growing beets for the greens by the 1800s, but it wasn't until later that century that the ruby roots became a dinner staple on this continent.

Beets come in four basic types — red, white, golden, and Chioggia (a striped white and magenta beet sometimes called candy-striped beets). Red is the most common variety and boasts a deep earthy flavor. White, Chioggia, and golden beets are harder to find, but their flavors are more subtle and sweeter than red beets. A bonus about white and golden beets is that they don't bleed onto other vegetables when roasted or steamed.

Nutritionally, beets provide some vitamin C and fiber. Beet season is from June through November. Healthy greens attached to the roots are a sign of freshness. The red roots of the beets should be firm and smooth with few blemishes. Once home, trim the greens from the roots and store for up to a week in a nylon or plastic produce bag in the refrigerator. Leave the roots loose in the refrigerated produce bin for up to a week.

There is no need to peel the beets because the skin is smooth and traces of minerals are just below the surface of the skin. Wash and grate raw beets into salads. Shred, slice, or dice and steam them, or cut beets into chunks and bake or roast them. Balsamic raspberry or orange vinegar enhances their flavor.


The first wild carrot was eaten in Afghanistan more than 2,000 years ago. It was purple, but decades of crossbreeding lightened carrots until they were nearly white. Eventually, the familiar orange carrot emerged, and the vibrant hue quickly won the color contest.

In ancient Greece, carrots were used as food and medicine, and they were considered an aphrodisiac. During the Middle Ages, doctors prescribed carrots for a wide spectrum of health problems. They've been used to treat indigestion, prevent constipation, and improve night vision. Carrots are rich in alpha- and beta-carotene.

When selecting carrots, look for bunches with healthy greens attached. The carrot should be firm and smooth with few blemishes. The season for carrots can be year-round, but it often tapers off in March and resumes in the summer. The sweetest carrots are often those grown close to home, from farmers' markets or your own backyard. Remove the greens before storing. Leaving greens attached can cause the carrot to wilt and become old before its time. Store greens and loose carrots in a plastic or nylon bag in the refrigerator. Use the greens within a few days. The body of a carrot will last up to two weeks.

Carrots are portable and easy to prepare. (I always take a few when I travel.) Grate or slice carrots and serve raw, or steam, roast, braise, sauté, or stew them. They're also good pickled or steamed and served with balsamic vinegar. The greens can be chopped and used in a stir-fry or tossed into a soup stock for added nutrition and flavor.


Hundreds of years ago, Mediterranean farmers grew both celery and celeriac. Celeriac was a common vegetable in this country until 1940 when it fell out of fashion and practically disappeared. Still, it remained popular in Europe, and just a few decades ago, you practically had to travel across the pond to find the savory root. Thanks to farmers' markets and a renewed interest, though, celeriac is making a comeback here.

Celeriac, a relative of celery also called turnip-rooted celery or knob celery, is cultivated for its root, not its stalks, which are thin, limp, and bitter. It is a knobby vegetable with a rough, brown, hairy texture and crevices where dirt from the farm hides. Nevertheless, when celeriac is peeled, soaked, and cut, this ugly duckling offers an amazing celery-parsley flavor with a texture of cooked potatoes.

When shopping for celeriac, look for firm roots. Store it unwashed in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Peel the outer skin and soak the flesh in water with a little lemon juice or vinegar added to preserve the white color.

Raw grated celeriac salads are traditionally laced with mayonnaise and sour cream. Vegan mayonnaise and plain soy yogurt could be used as substitutes in these kinds of traditional recipes. One of my favorite ways to serve celeriac is to mash it with potatoes and roasted garlic. (Use more potatoes than celeriac because celeriac contains more water.)

Jerusalem artichokes

These roots are neither related to artichokes nor from Jerusalem. In fact, Native Americans cultivated Jerusalem artichokes long before Europeans arrived on the shores of the New World. Also called sunchokes, these small, tan to brown knobby tubers look like misshapen ginger roots. They have an earthy flavor that becomes sweeter the longer they are cooked.

Jerusalem artichokes contain B vitamins, potassium, and iron. Look for firm, unblemished specimens from fall through early spring. Select dry, firm tubers, and avoid any with a greenish tinge. Wrap in paper towels, place in a plastic bag, and then store in the refrigerated vegetable crisper. They will keep for up to three weeks, but for the best flavor, eat them within a week. Jerusalem artichokes are often available at farmers' markets and natural foods stores.

To prepare Jerusalem artichokes, wash and peel with a vegetable peeler. Or leave the peel on since it also contains some vitamins and minerals. Slice or dice the tuber, then immediately immerse it in water with a little vinegar or lemon juice so these roots won't discolor. Jerusalem artichokes can be served raw, perhaps grated into salads, or they can be roasted, boiled, steamed, or fried. When cooked, their flavor is often enhanced with a little sweetener, such as agave nectar, and a squeeze of lemon juice. They can also be steamed and mashed with potatoes or stirred into soups as a thickener. Don't use a cast iron pot to cook them, or they may turn black.


Parsnips, which look like albino carrots, originated around the Mediterranean, and wild parsnips were eventually cultivated by the Romans. In the 1600s, Europeans brought carrots and parsnips to America. Unlike carrots, though, parsnips didn't catch on as a popular vegetable except in the Midwestern states.

Freezing temperatures convert the starch to sugar in parsnips. The flavor is transformed from starchy to sweet and earthy. The best parsnips are harvested after the first frost. Look for firm, unblemished roots in small to medium sizes. Large parsnips can be too fibrous. If you buy parsnips with greens attached, snip them off before storing. Parsnips retain their sweet taste when stored in plastic bags and can be refrigerated for up to two weeks.

Parsnips offer a good amount of fiber, vitamin C, folate, manganese, and copper and small amounts of iron. They also contain thiamin, niacin, potassium, and magnesium.

You can serve parsnips raw like carrots, such as grated for salads, or they can be sautéed, roasted, or steamed. You can also mash and purée them into side dishes or creamy soups. Parsnips' dry texture can be enhanced with a little olive oil. Their flavor is best balanced with a dash of nutmeg, cardamom, or cinnamon, but they can also take more savory flavors like curry.

Turnips and Rutabagas

Turnips and rutabagas are different, but these two root vegetables have always been linked together. Look up one, and you find the other.

Turnips lived in prehistoric times and are white in color. They appeared at the dinner table eons before rutabagas, which were first bred in the 17th century. Rutabagas are a cross between turnips and wild cabbage. They are light purple at the top of the root and yellow below. Rutabagas became known as Swedish turnips because of their popularity in that country, and they were one of the first vegetables new colonists in America grew. But like Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac, rutabagas never gained the wide following that carrots did. Rutabagas lack the pungent tones of turnips, and the taste is much sweeter. It's a puzzle why they aren't more popular.

Both turnips and rutabagas are good sources of vitamin C. Select firm roots with few blemishes. Wash, but don't peel, these roots; then, grate them into salads or steam, boil, bake, or roast them. One of my favorite ways to enjoy rutabagas is to slice them into thick matchsticks to make baked rutabaga fries. Roast them with a little oil at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes. I have also successfully substituted or combined mashed rutabagas with puréed pumpkin in pumpkin bread and muffin recipes.

Sweet Potatoes (and Yams)

The root of a vine in the morning glory family, sweet potatoes can be traced back 10,000 years in South America. Sweet potatoes grew in ancient Peru and are one of the oldest recorded vegetables. Columbus brought them back to Europe. During the following century, Spanish and Portuguese explorers took sweet potatoes to Africa. In the mid-20th century, an orange, moist-fleshed variety was developed. We call these bright orange sweet potatoes ‘yams,' though they are not true yams. Yams are actually large, white, starchy tubers from Africa.

Sweet potatoes are a good source of antioxidants, and they are high in beta-carotene. The darker the sweet potato, the higher the beta-carotene content. They also offer a good amount of vitamins C and B6 and contain iron, manganese, copper, and fiber.

Buy firm, healthy-looking roots without blemishes. Store fresh sweet potatoes in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place but not in the refrigerator. Steam, bake, or roast until very tender. Cooked sweet potatoes keep for approximately three days in the refrigerator.


(Serves 4-6)

This is an easy basic roasted vegetable recipe. I sometimes toss in a head of peeled garlic cloves. (These become sweeter as they roast.) You can also add a little more oil or change your choice of herbs. Try basil or oregano, or use a pinch of spices like nutmeg or cardamom for variation.

  • 1 ½ pounds golden beets, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, or turnips, cut into bite-size chunks
  • 1 large onion or 1 cup shallots, chopped (optional)
  • 1 or 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon paprika
  • Dash of cayenne
  • Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place cut vegetables in a large baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil. Add rosemary and stir vegetables until all are coated with oil. Sprinkle with paprika, cayenne, and salt. Stir again, and then bake for 1 hour or until all vegetables are very tender.

Total calories per serving: 141 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 19 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 68 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams


(Serves 6)

I've found that the flavors in this recipe are best if the beets are allowed to marinate for approximately an hour or more after mixing. I often make these beets a day before I want to serve them. If you do this, refrigerate the marinated beets.

  • 1 ½ pounds beets (approximately 4 cups), cut in half and sliced thinly
  • ¼ cup white or red wine, balsamic, or rice vinegar
  • 2-3 Tablespoons orange juice concentrate
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Steam beets for approximately 5 minutes or until tender. Combine vinegar and orange juice concentrate in a medium-sized glass bowl. Add warm beets and gently blend. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Total calories per serving: 60 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 89 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams


(Serves 6)

The dried fruit adds color, sweetness, and texture variety. Check for agave nectar in natural foods stores. As an alternative, substitute a vegan granulated sweetener. The toasted pecans are a nice touch if serving company, but for everyday meals, I skip them.

  • 1 pound carrots
  • ½ pound rutabagas
  • ¼ cup rice or white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup vegan mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons soy, rice, or almond milk
  • ½ teaspoon agave nectar (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ cup raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons lightly toasted, finely chopped pecans (optional)

Wash and grate the carrots and rutabagas. This should yield approximately 5 ½ cups grated carrots and rutabagas.

In a separate bowl, blend vinegar, mayonnaise, soymilk, agave nectar, salt, and pepper. Pour over rutabagas and carrots and blend well. Stir in raisins and sprinkle top with pecans, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 71 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 11 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 208 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams


(Serves 4-6)

This is one of my favorite dishes to bring when gathering with friends for an autumn meal. Look for pickled peppers in the salad dressing aisle.

  • ½ cup gray-green, brown, or French lentils, rinsed
  • One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
  • 1 or 2 pickled hot peppers, chopped
  • 1 or 2 carrots, sliced
  • ½ pound (approximately 2 cups) diced turnips
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1-1 ½ cups finely sliced kale leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine lentils, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, turnips, and garlic powder in a medium or large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 40 minutes or until lentils are nearly soft. Add kale and continue to simmer until kale is soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Total calories per serving: 153 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 30 grams Protein: 10 grams
Sodium: 394 milligrams Fiber: 11 grams


(Serves 4-6)

This recipe is a great way to introduce celeriac to family and friends.

  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium-sized celeriac root, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • ¾ pound washed unpeeled potatoes, cut roughly into small chunks
  • ¼ cup soy or rice milk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice off the top of the garlic head so that the top is flat and cloves are exposed. Place garlic on a piece of aluminum foil and drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil over the head. Wrap in foil and bake for 45 minutes or until head is very soft. Remove garlic from oven.

While garlic bakes, steam celeriac and potatoes until soft, approximately 10 minutes. Place celeriac and potatoes in a medium-sized bowl. Add 1 Tablespoon olive oil, soy or rice milk, and lemon juice, and mash to combine. Squeeze garlic into the mixture and blend with salt and pepper to taste.

Total calories per serving: 143 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 23 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 63 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams


(Serves 4-6)

Caramelized onions lend sweet flavors to Jerusalem artichokes. You can also use rutabagas or parsnips in this recipe.

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 1 pound Jerusalem artichokes, sliced and placed in water with a little lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated vegan sweetener, like Florida Crystals
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. When skillet is hot, add onions and drizzle oil over the top. Reduce heat to low. Cover and sweat the onions until soft and slightly golden. This may take up to 10 minutes.

Drain Jerusalem artichokes. Stir Jerusalem artichokes and garlic into onions and sprinkle with sweetener. Stir and cook for approximately 30 seconds. Add water. Cover and cook until Jerusalem artichokes are tender, approximately 5-10 minutes. Remove cover and cook until liquid disappears.

Stir in margarine and drizzle with lemon juice. Sprinkle with lemon zest, stir, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Total calories per serving: 169 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 27 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 37 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams


(Serves 4)

Substitute turnips, carrots, or potatoes in this soup, or use a combination of root vegetables.

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 1 Tablespoon curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • 5 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 3 cups sliced parsnips
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar
  • 1 cup soy or rice milk
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • Salt to taste

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onions and oil. Stir and cook until onions are transparent. Blend in curry powder and cumin and then stir in vegetable stock. Add parsnips and cook on medium heat until soft, approximately 15 minutes.

While parsnips cook, mix lemon zest, lemon juice, and agave nectar with soy or rice milk. Add to parsnips.

Remove approximately 1 ½ cups of parsnips-onions mixture and blend it in a blender or food processor. Return creamy mixture to soup and add cayenne and salt to taste.

Total calories per serving: 186 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 28 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 744 milligrams Fiber: 7 grams


(Serves 4)

This is a sweet and savory dip. I like to slice warm pita bread and then spread the dip on the pita triangles. If you don't have miso, use salt to taste.

  • 1 large baked sweet potato, peeled
  • 2 Tablespoons almond butter
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons rice syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon white miso
  • Handful of finely chopped red, yellow, or green peppers
  • Dash of cayenne

Mash sweet potatoes and blend with almond butter, rice syrup, and miso. Stir in peppers and cayenne.

Total calories per serving: 118 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 17 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 175 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Debra Daniels-Zeller is a frequent contributor to Vegetarian Journal.