Root of the Matter

Dig into the creative uses and potential profit of root vegetables

Waste not, want not. That’s been the principle long guiding sustainable food trends, including snout-to-tail cooking and using every part of a fish. For root vegetables, this translates to root-to-stalk.

Growing in popularity as chefs continue partnering with local farms, root vegetables are proving they can do more than be roasted with sea salt and olive oil. These underground dwellers are making a statement as the stars of appetizers, chunky or pureed soups (roast first) and side dishes (often pickled). They’re also infusing ice cream, sweet custard and vodka. And in a nod to sustainability, the once discarded tops are appearing in a number of dishes, helping overall food costs. 

Step into the underground world of root vegetables and their limitless possibilities.


BEETS

Salt-roasted beets with Thai green curry
Beet gnocchi with whipped coconut galangal cream
Dirt Candy, New York

Sticky chocolate beet cake
Amali, New York

Pork with beet hash, creamy kale, bourbon pork jus and walnuts
Passion 8, Fort Mill, South Carolina

CARROTS

Vegan Reuben with smoked carrots, kimchee and white bean puree on pumpernickel
Vedge, Philadelphia

Thumbelina carrots with blood orange, grapefruit and lollipop kale
Lavo Italian Restaurant, Las Vegas

Grilled carrots with house yogurt, spicy honey, and pistachio and seed granola
Alden & Harlow, Cambridge, Massachusetts

PARSNIPS

Parsnip cake
Nectar, Berwyn, Pennsylvania 

Parsnip ice cream with white chocolate and sunflower fudge
Bar Tartine, San Francisco 

RADISH 

Crispy radish cakes with wild mushrooms, peanuts and mushroom soy dipping sauce
Doi Moi, Washington, D.C.

Roasted radish bruschetta with lemon, garlic and parsley
Pastaria, Clayton, Missouri

ROOT COMBOS

Carrot, parsnip and turnip pancakes 
Kitchenette, New York

Rainbow root salad (baby purple and orange carrots, baby chioggia beets and baby turnip with rutabaga puree and rosemary balsamic vinaigrette)
Bisou Bistronomy, San Francisco

Roasted beets with spiced carrots, yogurt and pistachio vinaigrette
Locanda Verde, New York

RUTABAGAS

Charred rutabaga with dried cherries, sambal honey butter, candied pecans
Rutabaga la plancha with tempura marinated onion, black mole sauce, pumpkin seed manchego, poblano tofu crema, carrot-guajillo sauce and caper-cauliflower-avocado smash
Etch, Nashville

Fried rutabaga tossed with housemade shrimp paste
Fung Tu, New York

SUNCHOKES

Sunflower meze of sunchoke yogurt, sunflower seed granola, shrimp ‘chorizo’ and sunchoke relish
The Libertine, Clayton, Missouri 

Sunchoke ice cream and custard
Bar Tartine, San Francisco

Scallops, sunchoke puree, pine nut dolmas and sunchoke chips
Outpost, Goleta, California

TURNIPS

Smashed turnips with roasted Brussels sprouts and spiced apple
Post & Beam, Los Angeles

Sweet and sour turnips with bacon
Boca, Cincinnati

Duck with roasted turnips, braised leek, turnip and apple puree, and pickled mustard seed
Parish Hall, New York

TOPS

Radish and turnip green mayonnaise for smoked potato and black garlic
Bar Tartine, San Francisco

Chicken sausage-stuffed chicken, onion soubise, crispy potato galette, radish greens and Gilfeather turnip broth
Craigie on Main, Boston  

Jill Cornfield is a New York-based freelancewriter who regularly cooks for three guys.


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Leave it to the Leaves 

Instead of discarding the tops of turnips, beets, carrots and radishes, use the leaves as ingredients. Known for their unique pepper notes, root vegetable greens can be sauteed, blanched or pureed for side dishes, soups, sauces and oils. Using the tops can reduce waste by half, chefs say.

Cortney Burns of Bar Tartine in San Francisco ferments radish and turnip tops for a puree that’s whipped into mayonnaise in a smoked potato dish with black garlic.

Along with the creative benefits, the reduction of waste is a huge bonus for the bottom line. “If the greens are edible and delicious, we always use them,” Burns says.

Price Matters

Just because a restaurant blows through thousands of pounds of carrots a year for stock doesn’t mean they come cheap. 

“Vegetables are something we don’t see as a low-cost item,” says Cortney Burns, co-chef at Bar Tartine in San Francisco. The restaurant typically pays $5.95 per pound for certain types of pork and the same for many vegetables, such as Jerusalem artichokes for desserts, salads, soups and finishing oil. 

You can’t charge too much for vegetable dishes, says Marc Marone, executive sous chef of Lavo Italian Restaurant in Las Vegas. A solid garnish, though, can send the price north. An $8 or $9 soup, garnished with shrimp or short rib, can bump the price up to $13, he says. Appetizers starring baby beets can go for $15 to $18 when goat (or feta or blue) cheese is incorporated.