Rutabaga: What even is it? Is it a turnip? A radish? Some freakish hybrid? It’s actually related to both the turnip and the cabbage. It’s a humble sort of vegetable, often relegated for use as cattle fodder. But now, perhaps, it’s time for the rutabaga to shine. Chefs are realizing how valuable this ugly little veggie is.
Selecting and Storing Rutabaga
Rutabaga stands out in the vegetable bins. It resembles a big, round waxy turnip with a purplish top, but rutabagas are firmer and milder than their turnip cousins. Try to find a smooth, unblemished rutabaga. If they’re too large (over 5 inches in diameter), they begin to lose their mild flavor, and their texture turns wooden.
If the rutabaga has its leaves, hold on to them. These nutritious greens can be mixed into soups and salads or added to stir-fries.
Why Are Rutabagas Waxy?
Rutabagas are usually covered in paraffin wax to prevent them from drying out, and, in fact, they are sometimes referred to as wax turnips. With the wax left on, they can be stored in a cool, dry space for a few months – emphasis on dry. If they come into contact with water, they might become moldy and inedible.
How to Prepare and Peel Rutabaga
When you’re ready to prepare your rutabaga, clean it off under running water with vigorous use of a vegetable brush. The easiest way to remove the peel is to start by cutting off the top and bottom with a sharp knife; then cut the rutabaga into halves or quarters. Place the sections flat-side down on a cutting board and remove the peel with firm strokes, peeling away from you. The skin is fairly thick, and you’re probably better off using a paring knife instead of a standard vegetable peeler.
Now that your vegetable is washed and peeled, what do you do with it? Well, as it turns out, you can do a lot. Similar in many ways to its fellow root vegetable, the potato, the rutabaga lends itself to boiling, roasting, braising and steaming. Rutabaga, however, is more flavorful than a spud and tastes fine eaten raw. Julienned, it adds flavor and crunch to salads.
A Few Methods for Cooking Rutabaga
Rutabaga is delicious and nutritious, bursting with nutrients such as vitamin C, iron and vitamin B-6. In fact, it has been deemed a “superfood.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled rutabaga a “powerhouse vegetable.”
Roasted rutabaga is a delicious alternative to potatoes as a side dish, as roasting accentuates the vegetable’s mild sweetness. Cut it into cubes, toss with olive oil and/or butter, salt and pepper, and roast it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour, or until it’s browned on the outside and softened inside.
Rutabagas can also be cubed, boiled and mashed with butter. Sometimes mashed potatoes and mashed rutabagas are combined, the rutabaga adding its own notes of sweetness to the somewhat bland potato.
Scotland loves the charmingly named rumbledethumps, a dish that consists of mashed rutabagas (known in Scotland as neeps), mashed potatoes, butter, kale and cheddar cheese – layered in a casserole and baked to perfection. Almost as much fun to say as it is to eat!
- Healthy Eating/SF Gate: How to Cook Wax Turnips
- Permaculture Research Institute: Remarkable Rutabagas
- Cooking Light|Cooking 101: Why You Should Be Cooking Rutabagas This Season
- Kitchen Stories: Now in Season: Everything to Know About Shopping, Storing, and Preparing In Season Rutabaga
- The Spruce Eats: Scottish Rumbledethumps
Judith Tingley is a writer, editor and multi-media artist based in Louisville, Kentucky. The many articles she has written for online publications reflect a broad range of interests, including international travel, cultural history and cookery. She loves finding adventures along the back roads of America. Judith was educated at the University of Chicago. Visit her website at heyjudetheobscure.com.