Food Challenge: Parsnips
Have you ever been to the commissary and seen a weird, pale vegetable that looks like a cross between a carrot and a turnip? The vegetable in question is a parsnip, an underrated and often overlooked member of the tuber family. When I lived stateside, I had no idea what a parsnip was or tasted like. But that all changed when I moved to Germany and was introduced to this wonderful, underused vegetable.
Used heavily in European dishes, parsnips belong to the same family as carrots. This explains why they so closely resemble each other. They are softer in density than a carrot and have more of a distinct sweet, nutty flavor. Their distinct flavor can be attributed to the conversion of starch to sugar when the root is exposed to cold temperatures. Before sugar was widely available in Europe, parsnips were used to sweeten jams and cakes.
Another distinction between the carrot and the parsnip is the parsnip’s lack of beta-carotene, which gives carrots their vibrant orange color. However, these pale vegetables provide high amounts of fiber, potassium and folate. Folate is a B-complex vitamin that is important to digest during pregnancy to help avoid birth defects.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, folate is the naturally occurring form of folic acid. In addition to providing benefits to pregnant woman, folate helps lower cardiovascular risks and osteoporosis.
Available from September to March, parsnips are perfect for winter stews, soups, and as a side dish to accompany poultry. If a recipe calls for potatoes, carrots, or turnips, you can substitute parsnips for a flavor accent. They are easy to prepare; simply wash, peel and then cut to the specifications of your recipe.
When selecting parsnips, the smaller the parsnip, the sweeter the flavor. Look for smooth parsnips with a creamy ivory color and little to no extra root fibers.
So next time you’re at the commissary and see a weird white carrot, don’t turn your back on it. Buy one and see how you can use it in a dish.
When you’ve completed the challenge of cooking a dish with parsnips, show us on Facebook or Instagram with #IDfoodchallenge.