Here is one root vegetable you probably aren’t growing – and may have never even heard of – but it would be a great addition to your garden!
As summer comes to an end, root vegetables will soon take center stage on our dinner table. Sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, and more are all great winter veggies that go well in the hearty soups and stews of winter cookery.
But what about salsify? (Yes, I spelled it right.) This is literally the “ugly stepchild” of the root vegetable kingdom, and although it used to be a popular winter staple along with potatoes and parsnips, it has fallen out of favor in recent decades (at least outside of Europe, where I understand it is still fairly easy to find).
In fact, you may have never even heard of it, though you may have seen it at the farmer’s market and not recognized it. Salsify isn’t a very memorable looking vegetable. It looks like a brown or black woody, hairy root, and it is easy to pass over. But you shouldn’t! Despite its ugly appearance, salsify is actually both delicious and healthy.
Here are just a few reasons you should try growing this unique root vegetable in next year’s garden:
Salsify was a very popular vegetable with the Victorians, but it fell out of fashion in the 20th century and can now mainly be found at farmer’s markets and online specialty stores. It’s in season in the late fall and winter and really deserves a spot in every phytonutrient garden.
It may look like an ugly brown stick, but don’t judge salsify on its outer appearance. This is a white root — rather like a parsnip but skinnier — that keeps beautifully in the ground. Like the parsnip, it’s planted in spring, as early as the ground can be worked, then allowed to grow all summer and fall until the first frosts bring out its flavor. You can then pull it up during thaws, saving some under refrigeration if you like, but it will shrivel a little and is best dug and eaten fresh.
How to Prepare Salsify
The dolling-up process consists of peeling the root with a vegetable peeler to reveal the snow-white flesh, then placing them into a bowl of water with a couple of squeezes of lemon juice, to keep their bright white flesh as pretty as possible. Or you may want to skip the lemon juice, if you’re going to brown them in butter anyway it won’t matter, right? And that’s just what I do with them after I’ve steamed them for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on their size.
I also use the greens, which look like tall, wide grass blades. The light-colored part of the leaf, the bottom six inches or so, is tender and delicious, like the bottom of a leek, so it gets a thorough washing and then a quick butter sauté, along with the roots. The most surprising thing about salsify, the first time you eat it, is its flavor. Salsify belongs to the dandelion family and is also known as the ‘oyster plant’ because of its oyster-like flavor when cooked (though there’s some debate on that front). Personally I think they taste more like artichoke hearts than oysters.
This is a great two-in-one crop. Greens and roots tend to nourish us in different ways, and the role of roots is to bring up minerals from deep below the soil, especially a tap-rooted plant such as salsify. That’s why it’s important to give these crops a deeply cultivated soil in your garden and be sure to mix in plenty of compost.
The Health Benefits of Salsify
Salsify is a veritable treasure trove of nutrients, including significant portions of iron, potassium, calcium, manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, and copper, as well as vitamins including ascorbic acid, pantothenic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, folate, and vitamin B6. Salsify also has significant amounts of dietary fiber, protein, and inulin.