Japanese Root Vegetables: Denizens of the Deep
By the Foodies’ Foodie, Mora Chartrand-Grant
Steve, when you asked me to write about a favorite food, your request was perfectly timed with my focus on root vegetables at this time of year. They are always a delicious treat, but it seems that winter’s cold temps and gray skies make them even more appealing.
The earth has been their swaddling as they grow to harvest size. A local farmers market provides an abundance from which to select. Each vegetable comes from a different farmer, which makes for that many more market friends to purchase from and swap recipes. And now we have so many Japanese vegetables to choose from as well: gobo (burdock), daikon radish, Satsuma imo sweet potatoes, kabu white turnips, akakabu red beets.
I think there’s nothing better (or easier!) than roasted root vegetables, either to accompany a meal or simply on their own paired with a glass of wine or sake. The roasting process concentrates the natural sugars and turns them into Nature’s candy. Roasting is one of the simplest methods and is worry-free. My most recent pairing was both purple and white carrots, parsnips, burdock, and a mix of purple, red, and white pearl potatoes, a variety perfect for steaming too. I’ve only found these little potatoes at our farmers market. To be sure I have enough to last the week, it always means being the first in line at the potato farmer’s stall to snag a couple of the bags before the rest are swept away by the local chefs who can’t seem to get enough of them. But really, any mix of root vegetables that you prefer will work well. The more the merrier. Next on my list will be Satsuma imo, daikon and akakabu that will surely make for a stunning combination with their contrasting colors.
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit; line a sheet pan with aluminum foil. Scrub all vegetables well under running water; trim ends, but there’s no need to peel. For the burdock a coarse scrubbing sponge works well to remove its scruffiness. Cut carrots, parsnips and burdock into equal size pieces to ensure all cook at the same pace. Leave the pearl potatoes uncut. Or if using larger potatoes, cut into equal size pieces.
Place all vegetables in a large bowl, drizzle lightly with olive or vegetable oil, and toss to coat. Lay them out across the foil-lined sheet pan and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake until golden brown edges start to form and the vegetables yield easily when pierced with a knife point. Serve immediately.
Should you have any leftovers (but really, how could you?), they’re wonderful added to a soup, brought to room temperature and tossed with a vinaigrette and a grating of sharp cheese and sprinkle of fresh herbs, or even added to fresh, hot cooked rice.