Updated Friday, January 25, 2013 at 02:01 PM
EVER HEARD of crosnes, a tuber native to China and Japan and prized by French cooks? Me neither. Did you know you could use roasted red beets instead of liquid food coloring to make red velvet cupcakes? News to me.
Yeah, yeah. I know that only a fool snips her turnip and beet greens from the root then tosses them in the yard waste. (I toss mine with pasta, or saute them in olive oil with garlic and dried pepper flakes for a simple side dish.) But I had no idea what a fool I was to compost carrot tops rather than transform them into pesto, and jettison perfect radish greens instead of puréeing them with carrot, potato, leek and onion for a vegetarian-friendly soup.
Today, I'm a whole lot smarter when it comes to making the most of underground treasures — and the greenery they sprout — thanks to Diane Morgan's revelatory reference, "Roots: The Definitive Compendium"(Chronicle Books, $40).
Disney has nothing on Morgan, whose recipes turn many a beast into a beauty (see arrowhead, aka Wapato in Chinook). What's more, if "Roots" photographer Antonis Achilleos had been around to prettify Cinderella's homely stepsisters, Prince Charming would have chosen one of them instead: this book is that gaw-jus.
If you've ever wondered how the bearded behemoth disguised as celery root becomes an elegant cream soup, you'll find the answer among Morgan's 225 recipes. And if you've ever wrestled a gnarly horseradish in advance of a prime rib dinner, you'll learn to sprinkle the grated root with white vinegar to discourage discoloration.
Now that I know what to do with knobs of fresh turmeric (trim the rough ends, peel the skin, slice, mince or grate, and take care because it stains), it's sure to become a staple in my fridge, joining that other oft-used rhizome, fresh ginger, in Indian curries and Thai curry pastes.
As fond as I am of burdock root, a sushi bar staple, it never occurred to me to steam the slender taproot with mussels — "a natural pairing," says Morgan, a Portland-based cooking instructor with 17 cookbooks to her credit.
Nor had I thought to pair parsnips, rather than the more obvious carrots, in a Moroccan-styled combo of orange juice, cumin and mint, a swift fix for slow-roasted-parsnip fans like me.
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times' food writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Orange-Braised Parsnips with Cumin and Mint
Serves 4-6 as a side dish
1 ½ pounds parsnips
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
¾ teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 ½ tablespoons finely minced fresh mint
1. Trim and peel the parsnips. Cut them into sticks about 2 inches long by ½ inch wide and ½ inch thick.
In a 10-inch heavy frying pan, heat the sugar over medium heat until it starts to melt. Cook the sugar, lifting and tilting the pan as needed so the sugar melts evenly and turns a golden brown. Immediately add the butter and stir constantly until the sugar and butter are evenly combined. Add the parsnips and cook, stirring constantly, until evenly coated, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the orange juice, stock, vinegar, salt, cumin and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the parsnips are fork-tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the lid and stir occasionally until the liquid is reduced and the parsnips are glazed and caramelized, about 3 minutes longer. Stir in the mint and serve immediately.
— from "Roots"
"Roots" lives up to its subtitle as "the definitive compendium" on everything from Andean tubers to yucca. The parsnip, at center here, is the star of today's recipe, one of 225 in the book.