Exotic Root Vegetables

Grow celeriac, scorzonera, parsley root, watermelon radish and other tasty varieties with these tips.

Photo By: www.Johnnyseeds.com

Photo By: Lakeside Organic Gardens, www.lakesideorganic.com

Photo By: Babe Farms, Inc., www.babefarms.com

Photo By: J. Stafford

Photo By: Babe Farms, Inc., www.babefarms.com

Photo By: www.johnnyseeds.com

Photo By: J. Stafford

Photo By: www.johnnyseeds.com

Photo By: Lakeside Organic Gardens, www.lakesideorganic.com

Photo By: www.Johnnyseeds.com

Photo By: J. Stafford

Photo By: Babe Farms, Inc., www.babefarms.com

Photo By: www.johnnyseeds.com

Photo By: Lakeside Organic Gardens, www.lakesideorganic.com

The Oyster Plant

Carrots, sweet potatoes and onions are some of the more common root vegetables cooks use every day but there are plenty of other less common but equally delicious varieties you can try such as salsify. Some people call it the oyster plant due to its oyster flavor. Sow the seeds in early spring when the soil temperature has reached 40 degrees and expect to harvest in 120-150 days. Add salsify to soups and stews or serve it mashed with a little butter and cream.

Radish or Melon?

Also known as Rooseheart, the watermelon radish is a member of the Brassica (mustard) family and has a striking exterior with chlorophyll hues and subtle shades of pink and magenta. It is known for its mild, slightly peppery flavor and pairs well with salads with creamy dressings or in combinations of sliced apples and fennel. 

The Surprise Inside

As you can tell, the name watermelon radish (a heirloom variety of Asian daikon) is completely appropriate as its interior flesh is the color of fresh watermelon slices. From seed they grow from 1 to 5 inches in diameter and fare best in spring and summer plantings.

The Purple Alternative

A refreshingly different kind of yam, this purple variety grows well in early summer in light shade areas with hardiness zones 6 to 10. It has heart shaped leaves and fasting growing vines that by late summer will yield tubers for eating and replanting. Some mail order and specialty stores sell planter startup kits.

Turning Japanese

Steamed Tokyo turnips and greens make a simple but tasty side dish with a dressing of lemon juice, soy sauce or butter. Sow your seeds about 2 inches apart in rows in full sun or partial shade during the early spring. You should be able to harvest after 35 days or so.

Homely But Delicious

With its tangled, knotty appearance, celery root or celeriac may not win any prizes for loveliness but it is a wonderfully versatile relative of celery with a crisp, fresh flavor that perks up a Waldorf salad recipe. It does have a long growing season (120 days) so start your seeds in early March in a moist, rich soil environment.

Antioxidant Superfood

Most gardeners are used to growing beets as whole plants and harvesting the green leafy tops for stir-frys and other uses. But after the greens are gone, you can easily make a meal out of the large beetroots which are packed with healthy antioxidants. They are delicious roasted with some balsamic vinegar. Grow them from seeds in pots or in moist fertile soil after the last frost.

A Carrot Family Relative

A delicious addition to soups, stews, purees and mashed potatoes, the parsley root is closer in size to a carrot than a parsnip and takes approximately six months to grow to full size from seed. If you prefer to buy harvested parsley root, some specialty grocery stores carry it. 

Milder Than Turnips

A cross between a cabbage plant and a turnip, rutabagas have a longer growing season than both of those (about four weeks longer) but the extra time is worth it. The flavor is sweet yet savory and milder than turnips. Try it in a root vegetable gratin, mashed with carrots or roasted with a topping of fresh parsley and apple cider vinegar.

Not Your Usual Edible Perennial

Similar in flavor to salsify, scorzonera has a charcoal or brown-gray skin but the flesh underneath is white and when peeled resembles asparagus. You can boil them and serve with parsley sauce, make fritters with them or mash them with potatoes for a different flavor sensation. You can sow the seeds four months before the first frost as cool weather improves the roots’ flavor. Expect to harvest after 120 days or more.

Knobby and Nutty

Often called sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes are knobby looking tubers with the crisp texture of water chestnuts and a nutty flavor. You can purchase small tubers from specialty stores and plant them in early spring in well-drained soil with a pH of about 7.0. They are usually ready for harvest after the first frost in late fall. Scrub and roast them like potatoes with a little garlic and chili oil for a taste treat.

A Flavor That Sneaks Up on You

A visually unique option over the standard red radish, the Purple Ninja Radish possesses a striking light purple shade and will make your salads pop with color and a crisp, slightly spicy flavor. You can grow them from seed in early spring to early summer or late summer for a fall harvest.

Not All Horseradish Comes in a Jar

Forget about store bought horseradish sauce. You can make your own from plants or root cuttings placed in well drained soil in the spring or fall. The cold-hardy perennial is one of the easiest to grow edible plants and when it is minced up with a little cider vinegar and beet juice, it adds a flavorful zing to mayonnaise, salsa, hummus or sushi (use it instead of wasabi paste).

Golden Fruit of the Earth

With a sweeter, milder flavor than traditional red beets, this golden variety is an easy to grow, low maintenance root vegetable. Soak the seeds in water for 24 hours before planting in a sunny spot in early spring (3-4 weeks before the last frost). Space them 2 inches apart if growing for greens or 4 inches apart if harvesting for the roots.