With fall headed our way, one of my favorite things to do in cooler temperatures is to roast vegetables. Breakfast, lunch or dinner; it doesn't matter. Heating up my old oven long enough to roast sweet potatoes or brussels sprouts isn't such a bad thing when it's cool outside and I actually enjoy it warming up the whole house.
So many vegetables that people either abjectly dislike or don't really consider can be improved by roasting, the high temperatures caramelizing the natural sugars in things like carrots or butternut squash. Below is a list of veggies that are underrated for one reason or another, why you should try them and how to do it.
Not a vegetable that can be improved by roasting, jicama has a high water content that makes it a cross between water chestnuts and pears in terms of texture. The root vegetable has no real taste, however, save a vaguely sweet hint that makes it an ideal ingredient to add to chopped salads or dishes like Texas caviar -- really anything that could benefit from some extra crunch -- or to slip to children who are fussy eaters as a snack. But if it doesn't taste like anything, why eat it? Because jicama is very high in vitamin C and dietary fiber, two things we can all use more of in our diets. Also, you can make vampire teeth out of them.
When stored properly (between 32 and 35 degrees and at about 90 percent humidity), the noble rutabaga can last up to six months. These hearty and wholly underappreciated root veggies are also known as "swede" in England, where they're slightly more popular and where I first developed an appreciation of them. Dice a rutabaga into large chunks and boil it until tender, then mash it as you would a potato. They're also good mashed into a melange of boiled root vegetables: Potatoes, carrots, turnips and rutabagas make an unforgettable side dish that's earthy, sweet and slightly tart. They're high in fiber, vitamins A and C and potassium.
Long relegated to salad bars, where the raw form has very little flavor or appeal, or thoughtlessly boiled as a last-minute side dish, cauliflower must be roasted to be truly appreciated. That's why it's been such a popular food in the Middle East for so long, where roasted cauliflower is a staple item. Although only slightly sweetened by the process, the tips and florets of the cruciferous vegetable become irresistibly crunchy and browned, encouraged along with liberal amounts of olive oil and Kosher salt before roasting. I particularly like this recipe for parmesan-balsamic roasted cauliflower, a low calorie and high flavor treat that's also exceptionally high in a number of vitamins and minerals.
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Despite the increasing prevalence of beets on restaurant menus and in cooking shows, I still run across folks who've never eaten them or claim to hate them. I hated beets myself until I was in college. They were omnipresent at family dinners, but only in typical East Texas pickled form. While I've come to appreciate them pickled, beets truly shine when they're roasted and release their natural, earthy sweetness. Beets are very easy to prepare and roast and make a wonderful side dish for just about any meal; use beets as your go-to staple instead of the same old peas or carrots. They're full of calcium, potassium, vitamins and -- of course -- plenty of fiber.
1. Brussels Sprouts
Aside from lima beans, it's difficult to think of a vegetable that's been more maligned in modern memory. I strongly believe, though, that most peoples' aversion to brussels sprouts comes from having the tiny, cabbage-like gems prepared incorrectly. You don't have to roast brussels sprouts, but it's truly the best way to enjoy them. You can also braise them in heavy cream with some chopped bacon sprinkled on top for a truly decadent way to wreck a perfectly nutritious vegetable. And nutritious they are: In addition to being full of vitamins, they're cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, which contain compounds thought to help prevent cancer.