Root vegetables traditionally form the staple of our winter crops, used in everything from the Sunday roast to soups. Stuffed with vitamins and minerals, they'll even help you shake off the winter blues. Beetroot: Beetroot is closely related to sugar beet and is believed to be derived from a wild species native to the seashores of Europe. It's a beautiful deep scarlet or burgundy colour and adds a dash of vibrancy to any winter dish. It's commonly used as a side dish to traditional roast dinners, in summer salads or in sauces. The young leaves of the beetroot can also be used in salads. Carrots: Thought to be originally from Afghanistan, carrots were once used by Middle Eastern royalty to aid seduction. In the wild, the carrot's original colour is white, and is only orange in colour due to cultivation by the Dutch in the 17th century. You can even buy purple carrots in some supermarkets: they're not 'dyed' as appearance would suggest - this is the way they were grown in the Middle East and India as far back as the tenth century. Carrots are a member of the parsley family and are related to the parsnip, celery and fennel.

AdvertisementThey have a strong, sweet flavour, and are a good source of vitamin A, beta carotene and potassium. Always choose firm, young carrots if possible, as they're more tender. Carrots are delicious steamed as a side vegetable and tossed with butter and a pinch of ground cumin, or roasted with other root vegetables. Make a fragrant soup combining carrots with fresh coriander, and mix grated carrots with chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice and chopped mint for a fresh-tasting salad. Celeriac: Celeriac is another member of the parsley family and is closely related to celery. Although it looks superficially like a turnip, the taste is much more similar to that of celery. Celeriac is often used in soups and stews but can also be used grated in salads. Alternatively it can be baked or boiled and used as a side vegetable. It's quite an unusual vegetable and isn't very widely available. The best time to look for celeriac is in the autumn and winter when the main crop hits the markets. Peeled celeriac will darken so toss it in lemon juice or add a little juice to the cooking water. When choosing your celeriac try to go for roots that are less than four inches diameter, as the smaller, younger roots tend to be much more tender and less woody. Jerusalem artichoke: The Jerusalem artichoke, not to be confused with the globe artichoke, is actually a member of the daisy family and is closely related to the sunflower. It's originally from North America but is widely available in season.  The artichoke is a crisp, underground tuber, white or yellowish in colour, and is irregularly club shaped and quite knobbly. The flesh is quite sweet due to the presence of inulin, which is a particular sugar that can also be eaten by diabetics. Jerusalem artichokes can be baked or made into soup. Parsnip: Another member of the parsley family, the parsnip is a traditional winter vegetable. The cold winter weather is partly responsible for its delicious flavour as the cold helps to turn the starches into sugars. The parsnip has been used since the time of the Roman Empire. It was extremely popular in the Middle Ages, owing to its high carbohydrate content, sweet flavour and nutritious flesh. The parsnip is high in potassium, calcium and vitamin A. In fact, it was the staple root vegetable until it was ousted by the potato in the 16th century. Parsnips are still widely used, especially in the winter months as roast vegetables as well as in soups and other dishes. Salsify: Another member of the daisy family, salsify is one of the lesser known root vegetables. It's also known as the oyster plant as its root tastes slightly of oysters. The root of salsify is used in a similar way to any other root vegetable, in soups, stews or mashed. Try using boiled salsify in a salad to add a crisp delicate flavour. Swede: The swede, known as rutabaga in the US, is a comparative newcomer to our table. It was developed in Bohemia, possibly in the 17th century, though there are no written records of its development. Swedes can be purple, white or yellow in colour with white or yellow flesh. It's a common winter vegetable and is usually used in mash, stews and casseroles. Sweet potato: Originating from South America, the sweet potato may resemble the ordinary potato but it's quite different botanically, if no less delicious. It's usually a pinky colour, though it may look more white or purple depending on the variety, and can be used in a number of different ways.  They're a key ingredient to the American Thanksgiving meal where they're baked and served with the roast turkey. As with the ordinary potato, the sweet potato is incredibly versatile and can be made into soup, fritters, or served simply as a dish on its own. Turnip: The turnip has been known in Europe since prehistoric times, and although it's used primarily for its root, the leaves can also be eaten as spring greens. It's a member of the Brassica genus which it shares with swedes and cabbages. Turnips vary considerably in shape, size and colour; they can be round, flattened or cylindrical, yellow or white, with or without a green or purple zone near the top. Turnips are used in a similar way to swede: mashed, roasted or used in casseroles.

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