Recipes from the Root Cellar

270 Fresh Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables


By Andrea Chesman

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Sweet winter squashes, jewel-toned root vegetables, and hearty potatoes make local eating easy and delicious in the colder months of autumn and winter. Whether these vegetables are gathered straight from the garden, from a well-tended root cellar, or the market, their delectable flavors and nutritional benefits pack a powerful punch. With more than 250 easy-to-follow recipes that include Celery Root Bisque, White Lasagna with Winter Squash, and Thai Cabbage Salad, this collection will inspire you to explore the deliciously versatile world of root-cellar vegetables.



It all started when I fell in love with salsify, a root vegetable that once graced the tables of many a colonial American kitchen but has since fallen out of favor. Salsify, also known as oyster plant, is said to taste a bit like oysters. Being a major fan of oysters, I thought: What could be better than a root vegetable that lasts and lasts in a root cellar and tastes like oysters even though it grew in my landlocked garden?

I planted my first crop of salsify about 30 years ago. It is a stubborn vegetable to grow. As it emerges from the soil, it looks a lot like grass, so it is easy to weed away the entire crop. And so went the first harvest. After learning from that mistake, I planted again, only to be defeated by clay soil. Salsify likes a deep, loose loam and will produce only the skinniest, gnarliest, and most miserable roots if it isn’t given the loose soil it likes. A vigorous and early thinning also is absolutely necessary to give the roots sufficient space. Did I mention that this plant is fussy about its growing conditions?

But the flavor! Even a meager harvest is worth the labor. Sautéed in butter, salsify has none of the cabbagey nuance of turnips and rutabagas, nor the (sometimes) overwhelming sweetness of carrots and beets. It tastes like, well, a cross between globe artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes. I think it is a terrific vegetable, but so demanding of my care as a gardener that I decided to form an organization called the National Association of Growers of Salsify (NAGS). As the founder of NAGS, my mission was to try and convince vegetable growers to tackle this challenging vegetable.

I wrote an open letter to the newsletter of the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, where I shop, entreating members to join NAGS. I promised no dues, no meetings, no t-shirts, no newsletter, no tote bags — just the satisfaction of promoting the spread of this worthy vegetable.

Have you even ever heard of salsify? No? Well, then you know how successful NAGS has been.…

By now most adventurous eaters have tasted their way around the globe. On demand, our supermarkets have stocked exotic fruits and vegetables from all over the planet, and the distinct flavors of Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Italy have profoundly changed the way we cook. We have dined on asparagus in January and come to regard the tomato as a year-round vegetable instead of the seasonal treat it truly is.

“Eat locally, spice globally” are the watchwords that have recently begun to inform tables across America. Best-selling works by Michael Pollen (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) have strongly influenced people to think about the choices they make when shopping for food and to buy locally grown foods that have not been shipped over long distances, accumulating many “food miles.” This in turn means eating seasonal foods, at their peak, and fits in nicely with a growing aesthetic that celebrates fresh foods in their seasons. Eating locally means continuing the practice of enjoying the flavors of all the great cuisines of the world, while focusing the bulk of our choices on the foods that grow close to home.

The United States is blessed with a variety of different climates, but almost all locales experience some sort of winter, when few, if any, crops can be grown. Fortunately a variety of vegetables store well and can be enjoyed fresh instead of frozen or canned. These include root vegetables, hard-shelled winter squashes, and hardy greens that hold up well in the cold. Dried beans are another vegetable that keeps through the winter; heart-healthy, full of fiber, inexpensive, easily stored, and delicious, they make a lot of sense in the modern diet.

In recent years, I have grown to have a greater appreciation of turnips and rutabagas. I have served Brussels sprouts to a friend who said it was the first time she had enjoyed them, because I roasted them. I have made peace with parsnips, particularly if they are roasted. Kale is such a favored vegetable in my household that we actually miss it in the summer.

The hardy greens, winter squashes, and root vegetables have been largely ignored in recent years as people have been tempted by the unfamiliar and exotic. But a number of factors have converged to make eating long-keeping winter vegetables a good choice. Between an awareness that processed and exotic foods bring with them a significant carbon footprint and a shortfall in many household economies in the grip of a global recession, eating more humble vegetables makes sense. A lot of sense.

It is time for a rediscovery and celebration of the humble vegetables that have sustained so many people for so long before the advent of transcontinental shipping and overnight transoceanic flights. And if this includes a rediscovery of an unfamiliar root vegetable like salsify, then so much the better.

Eat More Vegetables

While dietary wisdom changes seasonally, the one piece of advice that never alters is “eat more vegetables.” It turns out that a diet filled with winter vegetables isn’t boring at all. The variety of dishes one can enjoy is infinite, and this collection of more than 250 recipes is only a beginning.

One theme that emerged in my experiments with using only winter vegetables in the winter is that favorite dishes are easily adapted. We love California nori rolls, a vegetarian sushi roll usually made with avocado, carrot, and scallions. Well, my experiments revealed that nori rolls made with carrots, turnips, and red cabbage are even more beautiful to behold and equally tasty. Love New England clam chowder? Try a scallop-and-salsify chowder. Love beef stew? Choose roots for the vegetables. This isn’t about applying some abstract “locavore” discipline. This is just good eating.

Many people think that salads start with lettuce. And in the summer, this is often true in my house. For winter salads, napa cabbage, the tenderest of the cabbages, does nicely as a substitute for lettuce and other greens. Belgian endive is also a fine “green.” We are all familiar with shredded-carrot salads. It turns out that shredded beets and turnips also make interesting salads. Shredding is a wonderful way to tame a winter vegetable; the act of shredding transforms a tough root or cabbage into a tender mouthful. There is no limit to the number of salads you can enjoy in the winter, without lettuce and without tomatoes.

Time for Experimenting and Slow Cooking

I think of summer as time for salad suppers, quick sautés and stir-fries, and grazing meals of fresh-picked corn, sliced tomatoes, and other raw vegetables, perhaps accompanied by breads and cheeses. Winter meals, on the other hand, are often slow-simmered soups and stews, braised meats, and bean pots. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to tackle a new recipe or cooking technique, or to put something in the oven that will cook for hours. The extra heat provided by the active oven is welcome in the winter kitchen.

Slow cooking is sometimes needed to bring out the best in winter vegetables. Winter squashes, potatoes, and rutabagas aren’t really edible raw. Turnips harvested young are delicious sliced raw and added to a salad instead of radishes. Turnips pulled up from the root cellar may be bitter or starchy raw, but delicious cooked. Likewise, a freshly harvested carrot is so sweet and juicy it is a shame to cook it. By late winter, however, much of the sugar has been converted to starch, and carrots may taste best cooked.

But don’t avoid winter vegetables because they seem too time-consuming to prepare. Shredded root vegetables and winter squash, as well as hearty greens, cook quickly and are terrific in sautés and stir-fries. That’s where some of the experimentation comes in. Trying out new flavorings and sauces keeps the sautés and stir-fries fresh tasting and interesting.

About the Recipes

I try to use what is known as “market measures” in my recipes. I don’t call for “2 cups shredded carrots” when I can avoid it. Instead I call for “2 carrots, shredded.” I don’t want you stuck with half of a peeled carrot. (Okay, the peeled carrot will get eaten pretty quickly if left on the cutting board, but half of a celery root is just going to sit there.) You can figure that I am talking about an average-size carrot, so if you have only tiny carrots, use two or three. If you have only large carrots, don’t hesitate to use the whole thing. If it makes a difference, I will let you know.

The same goes for shallots. Have you noticed how variable the size of a shallot has become? When I first started cooking, I found shallots sold as two small bulbs to a pack in the supermarket. Now I buy shallots at a natural foods store, and they are usually quite large and often contain two or more small bulbs within one skin. Don’t fret about sizes. Just use whatever comes to hand — the recipe will work out regardless.

Market measures for greens are a little tricky. I have found that a “bunch” of kale from the farmers’ market in the fall is more generous than a bunch of kale at a store later in the season. I could call for a certain number of stems, but the outer stems may contain double the volume of leaves of an inner stem, and a slightly wilted stem has less volume than a freshly harvested stem. In many recipes you can use the entire bunch, regardless of the measure called for in the recipe, but greens require a lot of space, and the volume of the entire bunch may be more than your pot can hold with the other ingredients. Where it matters, I have called for a cup measure. If you should harvest too much of a green, or even strip too many leaves off the stems, keep the extra greens in a well-sealed bag for a few days in the refrigerator. They should survive nicely. When you measure the greens, lightly pack them into the measuring cup.

Canned Tomatoes

Canned tomatoes are an integral part of the winter kitchen. It’s no surprise that people can more tomatoes than any other vegetable. Tomatoes and tomato products can be processed safely in a boiling-water bath, while other vegetables require a pressure canner. Some years I can, but other years I don’t find the time or my tomato harvest is too meager.

My recipes are designed to use either a 28-ounce can or a quart of home-canned tomatoes. They aren’t precisely equivalent; there are about 3 cups of tomatoes in a 28-ounce can and anywhere from 3½ to 4 cups in a home-canned quart. Don’t worry about the difference; just use whichever you have on hand.

My mother never cooked a dish that didn’t begin with “First, sauté an onion.” My recipes are more varied than her home-style Jewish cooking, but when I write up my recipes, I find I am in a similar rut with garlic. I rarely make a dish that doesn’t include garlic. If you don’t like garlic, simply omit it, or substitute a tablespoon or two of minced onion or shallot. I prefer the subtle flavor of shallots over onions in most dishes. If you don’t have a shallot on hand, substitute one-quarter of an onion.

I encourage you to substitute freely with ingredients you have on hand or ones you prefer. Collard greens and kale are often interchangeable, though I tend to use only kale in recipes that originated in Italy, where kale is preferred. Collards may take some extra cooking to become tender, so judge doneness by the tooth, not the clock. Turnips and rutabagas are quite similar in flavor and texture and can be used interchangeably.

Bum Rap for Root Vegetables

The very dependability and nutritional value of root vegetables has led to their decidedly uncherished status. Take the rutabaga, for example. This relatively large root vegetable was the result of a chance hybridization between a turnip and cabbage, first appearing in eastern Europe in the seventeenth century. One of the few vegetables to last through long, cold Scandinavian winters, the rutabaga was the food of the poor, valued as an important source of nutrition. From Sweden, it reached Scotland, and from there it spread to the rest of Great Britain and to North America.

In continental Europe, it acquired a bad reputation during World War I, when it became a food of last resort. In the German Steckrübenwinter (rutabaga winter) of 1916–17, large parts of the population were kept alive on a diet consisting of rutabagas and little else; grain and potato crop failures combined with the disruptions of war had resulted in severe food shortages. After the war, most people were so tired of “famine food” that they turned against the dependable rutabagas that had sustained them. The fact that the rutabaga was also fed to livestock in winter didn’t help its image.

Salsify, for its part, is associated with “gray meat” stews served in school lunches in France and Germany. These stews have done nothing to enhance the image of salsify and other root vegetables in Europe.

It is time for root vegetables to come out of the cellar and be fully appreciated for the nutritional and flavor powerhouses that they are. Roast a rutabaga today!

Many of my dishes call for mixed root vegetables. I prefer using a mixture for color and flavor, but you can certainly use just one type of vegetable, if that is what you have. Beware of using only carrots or parsnips, which can add too much sweetness to a dish. I recommend using golden beets in mixes of root vegetables; you can substitute red beets, but they will stain the entire dish a garish red that isn’t always appealing.

I have identified those recipes that are vegetarian with a , and they make up the bulk of the book. Some of these recipes are vegetarian only if you so choose — either I have given a choice of broths that include a vegetable broth, or a vegetarian variation follows the main recipe. In my definition, vegetarian recipes may include dairy products and eggs.

About the Book

The first chapter is devoted to the vegetables: how to buy and store them, how to prepare them, and cooking tips that will ensure success with every recipe. I’ve suggested ways to cook the vegetables without following specific recipes. I’ve done the math to help you figure out how much a typical vegetable will yield if it is sliced or shredded. The rest of the book contains recipes. The recipes represent many winters of good eating in my household. I hope they lead to many delicious winters in yours.

An Introduction to Winter Vegetables

I love winter! The garden has been put to bed, and there are few outdoor chores that demand my attention. There is time for quilting and skiing. And plenty of time for cooking and having fun in the kitchen. What could be better?

The fresh vegetables that are available for cooking at this time of the year are the hearty greens, the members of the onion family, white potatoes and sweet potatoes, root vegetables, and winter squashes. Dried beans are also readily available. With the exception of beans, all of these vegetables can be stored in a root cellar with no time-consuming processing. Many are vegetables that have been neglected in winters of recent years in favor of frozen or imported summer vegetables. If you need information on how to choose, store, or prepare these vegetables, read on.



I’ve organized the vegetables by family—all the greens together, all the root vegetables together, and so on. Here’s an alphabetical listing of the vegetables to help you find specific ones along with the page number.

Beans (dried)


Brussels sprouts



Celery root

Collard greens


Jerusalem artichokes



Mustard greens







Sweet potatoes


Winter squashes

Hearty Greens and Cabbages

HEARTY GREENS, as opposed to salad greens, stand up to cooking, though cabbage is delicious raw in a well-dressed salad. Hearty greens include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kale, and mustard greens. (Spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens, and beet greens are tender greens that are mostly unavailable in the winter.) Most of the hearty greens belong to the Cabbage family, all descendants of the wild cabbage, Brassica oleracea var. oleracea.

These vegetables stand up to some pretty cold growing conditions in the garden and can be counted on to store reasonably well in a refrigerator or root cellar. Best of all, they are all very nutritious, ranking high as sources of vitamins A, C, and E and calcium and well regarded for their sulfur-containing phytochemicals, which are thought to provide significant protection against several different types of cancer. One of the best things you can do for the long-term health of your eyes is to enjoy a serving of greens a few times a week.

You could also call these greens strongly flavored or assertive greens, because their flavors are strong—even bitter sometimes. There are plenty of people who think they don’t like the hearty greens. Usually these are people who are particularly sensitive to the bitterness of certain strongly flavored greens, such as mustard greens. You can tame the bitterness by blanching the vegetables for 5 to 7 minutes in plenty of boiling salted water, which will leach out some of the flavor compounds and give the greens a silken texture. Then prepare the recipe, sautéing or braising as the recipe directs. In my family, we love the bitterness, so I don’t usually bother blanching.

When preparing leafy greens, you’ll want to wash the leaves carefully; the more crinkled the leaves, the more likely they harbor grit or insects. The tough stems should be removed before cooking: Working one stem at a time, hold the stem in one hand and use the thumb and index finger of your other hand to strip the leaf off the stem. Discard the stem. Stack the leaves together, roll them into a cigarlike shape as best as you can, and chop into ribbons. Especially tough greens, such as collards, will cook more quickly if the ribbons are thinly cut.

It is challenging to measure greens accurately. If the greens are fresh out of the garden, the leaves stripped off the stems will be resistant to being packed in a cup, producing more volume. A wilted bunch, on the other hand, compresses into a cup easily, resulting in less volume. At the beginning of the harvest season, greens have lighter stems, yielding a greater volume of leaves per pound. At the end of the season, though, the stems are woody and heavy, yielding a lesser volume of leaves per pound. The solution to this problem? Use more or less greens, depending on what you have on hand. Use your judgment, and don’t worry about getting the measurements exactly right.

You can use kale, collards, and mustard greens interchangeably in most recipes. Collards seem to require a little extra cooking, in my opinion, so adjust the timing as needed when swapping greens in a recipe.

Brussels Sprouts

small. In cold climates, Brussels sprouts taste best after a few frosts, when the leaves are tinged purple or red. Select compact heads with no hint of yellow. The cut end should be dry, not slimy, and green, not dark brown. If you are picking the sprouts individually from a bin, select ones that are uniform in size so they will cook evenly.


Trim away the ends of each sprout. Remove any damaged or yellowed leaves. Cut in halves or quarters as needed to make them uniform in size. If you’re going to add them raw to salads or use them in a stir-fry or sauté, you can slice the sprouts into thin ribbons (chiffonade).

Cooking Ideas

The cabbagey flavor of Brussels sprouts is most easily tamed by roasting. But don’t stop there. Stir-fries with garlic, ginger, and sesame oil do wonders for the flavor. Brussels sprouts are also excellent sautéed, particularly when paired with strong flavors, such as smoked bacon or sausage. They are lovely braised and can be finished with a touch of cream or mustard.

Brussels Sprouts Math

1 pound Brussels sprouts = 3 to 3½ cups whole sprouts = 3 cups halves

Cabbage: Green, Red, Savoy, and Chinese

is the cabbage of choice for cabbage rolls. Chinese cabbages fall into two groups: Brassica rapa chinensis and Brassica rapa pekinensis (sometimes you just have to resort to Latin to keep it all straight). The chinensis group includes bok choy (also called pac choi) and has juicy white stems with dark greens attached. The pekinensis group includes napa cabbage, which is a mild-flavored cabbage with long, oval-shaped bunches of pale green leaves. Both types of cabbage are excellent in stir-fries, and napa cabbage makes excellent salads. Baby bok choy is a treat that should be lightly steamed and enjoyed with a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil.


Cabbage of every type is available in supermarkets all year long; it is grown and harvested year-round in California. Savoy cabbage is not commonly stocked in supermarkets, so you are much more likely to see it in the fall at farmers’ markets.


Solid, firm heads keep well in a root cellar at 32° to 40°F and 90 percent humidity (the same conditions root vegetables require). Place the heads on shelves, several inches apart, with the root ends up, or suspend them from rafters by the root. You might consider wrapping the heads in newspaper, which will help them retain moisture. If your root cellar is in your basement and not well ventilated to the outdoors, you may find that green cabbage releases an unpleasant odor that creeps into the house (Chinese cabbages do not).

Green and red cabbages keep better and longer than savoy cabbage and Chinese cabbage. If you’ve grown Chinese cabbages, simply pull up the plants, roots and all, and replant them in boxes of dirt in your root cellar for long-term storage. Or refrigerate in a perforated plastic bag for a week or two.

The conventional wisdom is that unwashed, firm heads will keep up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. In reality, cabbage keeps for at least a month. As cabbage ages, it loses its vitamin C content. It also toughens and is best suited to being cooked rather than used in salads.

How to Buy

Buy whole heads when possible. Choose unblemished, compact heads that are heavy for their size, which means they have not lost their moisture.


Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage, then rinse the head under cold water. Slice the cabbage into quarters and cut out the core, then slice, grate, or shred as the recipe requires. Specialized cabbage slicers are available, but a food processor or a sharp knife works just fine.

If a cabbage you want to use raw is tough, sprinkle it with salt and let it drain in a colander for at least 30 minutes. Then taste for saltiness. If it is too salty, rinse under cold running water. If it isn’t too salty, just use it as is, but adjust the salt the recipe requires and season with more salt only if needed. Salting and draining cabbage in this manner before dressing it softens the cabbage and prevents the dressing from becoming watery.

Cabbage loses volume when cooked, so don’t worry when a dish calls for 8 to 12 cups of sliced cabbage; it will quickly cook down.

Cooking Ideas

Above all, do not overcook cabbage, which results in a mushy texture and a strong flavor. Cabbage can be delicious boiled (think corned beef and cabbage), but overcooked boiled cabbage is what has given cooked cabbage a bad name. It can also be steamed. It really shines when briefly cooked in a stir-fry. Both green and Chinese cabbage can be stir-fried with every kind of meat or tofu and are compatible with any Asian sauce or seasoning. They are used as the filling for spring rolls, egg rolls, and all manner of dumplings.

Slow cooking renders cabbage meltingly tender and sweet. Try slowly sautéing a mixture of cabbage and onion over low heat for 10 to 20 minutes. Combine it with freshly cooked egg noodles and sour cream to make a delicious eastern European dish known as haluska.

There are plenty of really terrific “peasant-style” cabbage dishes that should not be ignored, beginning with bubble-and-squeak, which takes its name from the sound cabbage is supposed to make as it cooks: Sauté shredded cabbage in butter, then add leftover mashed potatoes and press down to make a pancake. Brown on both sides. Or braise cabbage in beer with sausages: Brown sausages in a large skillet, add beer, and simmer until the sausage is almost cooked through. Add sliced or shredded cabbage, cover, and continue to simmer until the cabbage is tender crisp and the sausage is fully cooked. Chlopski is a similar dish made with bacon and braised in water, wine, or broth. Caldo gallego (Spanish) and garbure (French) are rib-sticking soups made with white beans, cabbage, and an accent meat, such as bacon, salt pork, or ham, for flavor.

Of course, cabbage does not need to be cooked at all to be delicious. Coleslaw is an all-American standard, and it can be made in dozens of different ways (see pages 50 to 56).

Cabbage Math

1 small head green cabbage = about 2 pounds, trimmed

1 medium head green cabbage = about 3 pounds, trimmed

1 medium head bok choy = about 2 pounds

1 pound cabbage = 4 cups shredded = 2 cups cooked

Collard Greens

How to Buy

Avoid yellow or limp leaves. You’ll need about 2 pounds to feed four people as a side dish.


Wash the leaves carefully to get rid of any grit and insects. Stories abound of people washing large quantities of greens in a washing machine, but I can’t verify that it is a good idea. Remove the tough stems before cooking: Grasp the end of the stem with one hand. Run the thumb and index finger of your other hand right along the stem, ripping off the leaf.

Cooking Ideas

You can use collards anywhere you would use kale, but slightly increase the cooking time. Collards can also replace cabbage in soups and stews.

Collards are good as a sauté: Blanch for 10 to 15 minutes, then drain. Sauté with olive oil and garlic or butter and pine nuts and finish with a dusting of Parmesan. You can also cook blanched collards with rice or grits, or you can combine them with canned or cooked beans, seasoned with hot sauce or vinegar.


On Sale
Jun 24, 2010
Page Count
387 pages

Andrea Chesman

About the Author

Andrea Chesman is the author of The Fat Kitchen as well as many other cookbooks that focus on traditional techniques and fresh-from-the-garden cooking. Her previous books include The Pickled PantryServing Up the Harvest101 One-Dish Dinners, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How. She teaches and gives cooking demonstrations and classes across the United States. She lives in Ripton, Vermont.

Michael Ruhlman is the author of The Elements of Cooking, The Soul of a Chef, and The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America, among others.

Learn more about this author