Root vegetables rarely get the attention they deserve and parsnips are no exception. They make a great alternative to French fries, seasoned with herbs or spices and roasted in the oven. I was reminded of this last night when a friend roasted a pan full of parsnip sticks, carrot sticks, potato wedges, and onions with rosemary, sea salt and pepper. I’ve made roasted carrot fries, roasted parsnips fries, and a combination of the two many times. I’ve also roasted potatoes or potatoes with onions on numerous occasions. What I hadn’t done was combine them all in one dish. It came out great and paired well with spice-rubbed grilled chicken breast with a squeeze of lime and steamed asparagus.
Although parsnips and other root vegetables are used widely in many cuisines around the world, many Americans are unfamiliar with them. I certainly didn’t grow up eating them. Very few of my students can properly identify them in a line up of root vegetables. Even fewer checkers in supermarkets can accomplish this simple task.
Parsnips are related to carrots. They’re similar in shape but paler in color. They taste best cooked, at which point they soften and usually become sweet (unless you inadvertently select large, mealy, overgrown specimens). They’re usually best after a frost in the fall or spring. Some people describe their flavor as buttery, slightly spicy, and sweet. Sometimes they taste reminiscent of cardamom, honey, or butterscotch.
These are my parsnip fries before cooking.
I’ve enjoyed them roasted in wedges or french-fry like pieces singly or in combination with other root vegetables or tubers, added to vegetable soups, beef, lamb or chicken-based stews, and casseroles, or boiled or simmered and mashed or pureed to replace mashed potatoes. Roasted Parsnips or parsnip fries pair well with roast chicken, turkey, or duck, with steak and roast beef, bison, or goat, with salmon, and with burgers.
What about the glycemic index?
Many people have misunderstood the importance of the glycemin index in weight control and black-listed parsnips and other nutritious, delicious, versatile, and traditional vegetables and fruits. Do you know anyone who has become significantly overweight or obese from eating too many carrots, beets, yams, sweet potatoes, bananas, or parsnips? I do not!
Here they are after cooking.
Here’s an except about glycemic index vs. glycemic load from chapter three, “Friendly Foods” of my book, The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook.
Can Fruits and Vegetables Make You Fat?
“Fruits top the list of plant foods eaten by hunter-gatherers (41 percent of their total intake), followed by underground storage structures such as tubers, roots, and bulbs (24 percent). Some foods from these groups, such as bananas, winter squash (a fruit), beets, carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes have been attacked by some nutritionists who say these foods should be avoided because they score high on the glycemic index. Supposedly these foods will promote elevated insulin levels and consequently make people fat.
“This is a mistake. To promote elevated insulin and fat-formation, a food must have a high glycemic load, which is calculated by multiplying it’s glycemic index score by the amount of carbohydrate in a 10-gram portion. Although some fruits, roots, and tubers score relatively high on the glycemic index, all have relatively low glycemic loads compared to modern refined foods (See Table 3.2).”
Fruits & Vegetables Glycemic Index Glycemic Load
Parsnips 97 19.5
Potato 85 19.4
Sweet Potato 54 13.1
Banana 53 12.1
Carrots 71 7.2
Beets, boiled 64 6.3
Rice Krispies 88 77.3
Cornflakes 84 72.7
Shredded Wheat Cereal 69 57.0
Bagel 72 38.4
White bread 70 34.7
Source: Foster-Powell K & Brand Miller, J, “International tables of glyecmic index,” Am J Clin Nutr (1995): 62:871S-893S. Adapted from Cordain L, Eades MR, Eades MD, “Hyperinsulinemic diseases of civilization: more than just Syndrome X,” Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part A, 136 (2003): 95-112, p. 97
“Although parsnips and white potatoes both score high on the glycemic index, they deliver a glycemic load about half that of a bagel or slice of white bread, and about one-fourth that of a bowl of Rice Krispies or Cornflakes cereals. Carrots and beets deliver glycemic loads one-tenth of those of processed cereals. It’s clear that processed grain foods are the likely culprits for blood sugar disorders and obesity, not fruits, roots, and tubers.
“People rarely eat roots or tubers alone as is done in tests to determine the glycemic index. When carbohydrate-rich foods are eaten in a meal with protein- or fat-rich foods, the glycemic response is reduced. The glycemic index of any food in a meal may be less important than the impact of the entire meal.
“It would be a major challenge to overeat vegetables and fruits. The average woman who needs at least 1500 calories per day would likely find it very difficult to eat 15 large potatoes or bananas. In general, vegetables and fruits fill you up long before you can eat enough to fill you out. Based on caloric density, an overuse of fat-rich food is far more likely to cause gain of body fat, since fats are up to 45 times more calorie dense than vegetables and fruits (Table 3.3).”
So here’s the recipe. If you’re weary of making it right now when the temperature is rising, here’s what I suggest. Make a half or three-quarter size batch in a toaster oven. My Cuisinart Convection Toaster Oven holds a 10×12 baking tray with sides. I can roast 1 1/2 pounds of vegetables in it with ease. It heats up quickly and won’t overheat the kitchen. Cook the dish first thing in the morning, then reheat portions in the toaster oven later in the day or roast the roots any time of day along with one or two pans of other vegetables or a pan or two of chicken or meat. That way you’ll have convenient leftovers for other meals over the next couple of days and you can freeze some of the leftover meat for future meals. I find it only takes about 10 minutes to reheat meal-size portions of meat or roots in the toaster oven.
Roasted Parsnip Fries
Prep: 20 minutes/ Cooking: 35 to 40 minutes/ Yield: 8 servings
Consider serving these roasted roots for breakfast, lunch, or dinner with eggs, fish, poultry, or meat, and cooked leafy greens, coleslaw, or a tossed green salad.
I like to make enough to serve 2 to 3 days in row. Leftovers taste delicious warmed in an oven or toaster oven or close to room temperature in a pack lunch, when an oven is not available. Alternatively, you could add leftover parsnip fries to a tossed green salad or a main-course salad with meat. Don’t be shy give the variations a try.
Note: Parsnips taste best after a frost, when their natural sugars develop. Select the smallest roots you can find, no larger than a typical carrot; large, overgrown specimens typically taste tough, dry, and bitter, so I don’t buy them.
1 serving (about 3/4 cup) parsnips: 118 calories, 3 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 41 mg calcium,11 mg sodium
1 serving ( about 3/4 cup) carrots: 119 calories, 2 g protein, 14 g carbohydrate (6 g fiber), 5 g fat, 53 mg calcium, 61 mg sodium
* Roasted Carrot & Parsnip “Fries”: Use half carrots and half parsnips above.
* Roasted Carrot “Fries”: Use only carrots in the master recipe above.
Source: The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook by Rachel Albert & Don Matesz (Planetary Press, 2004).