Of root vegetables and root cellars –oh, and a grill recipe.

Usually by this time of year we are DONE planting. But the other day I bought half a dozen more seed packets and this morning the big boys and I were moving compost while my husband set up new sprinkler lines in preparation for just a bit more garden space.

The seeds I bought? Parsnips. Turnips. Kohlrabi. Salsify. I’ll be honest: we’ve never even tried some of these foods. But this summer I happened upon a book called Root Cellaring and got inspired. For years John has talked about digging a root cellar to store some of our garden produce a little longer. I wasn’t sold on the idea til I bought the book. Now he and I are both looking at various areas of our property with a critical eye, trying to figure out where the best place would be for a nice cool hole in the ground.

We may not love every veggie we try. But I figure I can use most of it in a nice winter soup, and with a little experimentation we can find other ways to do different veggies too. We are really hoping to discover some good new veggies that will be happy in a root cellar for a couple months, thus decreasing our dependence on grocery store food.

In the book ‘Farmer Boy’ there’s some great description of their family’s root cellar. It was quite inspirational to read how the family with careful management was able to save all sorts of food through the winter using only the natural cooling powers of underground storage.

We could definitely use more ‘fridge’ space. In good years we harvest 12-15 bushels of apples. We routinely get bushels of onions for free. The cabbage tends to come on all at once, leaving us trying to use it all up fast, to regain fridge space. We always have lots of pumpkins. And there are lots of other winter-keeper type veggies that we haven’t even tried.

The other day I grabbed a couple of unusual things from the grocery store to try: a long white daikon radish and 3 ‘bulbs’ (??) of kohlrabi. When I grabbed the radish, a lady next to me asked me what I was going to do with it. “I dunno,” I said. “I’m experimenting. I’ll probably put it in a stirfry.”

“Me too,” she said, holding up her bag of kohlrabi with a smile. “I’m growing this for the first time in my garden and I wanted to taste it.”

At home with my vegetable bounty, I contemplated what to do. Google a recipe? Nah, too easy. Besides, I was starting to envision some kind of veggie/skewer/beef recipe on the grill. I peeled and cubed the radish. Then I chopped the long leafy ‘legs’ (tops?) off the kohlrabi. (My hubby looked suspicious and said it looked like Martian vegetables.) While trimming the kohlrabi, I discovered that the outside of it seemed woody. I trimmed all the skin off which revealed a greenish white interior that seemed much more tender. I cubed it like the radish, and then got out some brussel sprouts and cubed some carrots and potatoes so my brave food explorers poor children would have something familiar at dinner. I already had some cubed stew beef that I cut into fairly small pieces just in case it was tough.

My skewered-food-on-the-grill idea went out the window when I discovered I only had one skewer and it had last been used to unclog a bathroom sink drain. Hmm… Since it was hot outside and I wasn’t anxious to heat my house, I still wanted to try the grill. But i wasn’t sure if I could get the veggies to cook evenly. I put a pot of water on to boil and added the veggies in gradually. First the hardest veggies: radish and carrots, then kohlrabi and brussel sprouts, and finally the potatoes. Ten minutes for the firmer stuff and only 5 for the potatoes. I just wanted them to be partly cooked. The grill would finish the rest.

I tossed the meat with a little steak sauce and garlic salt, then spread it on an oiled cookie sheet which covered half my grill. Then I tossed the remaining veggies with a bit more steak sauce and salt and put it on a second oiled cookie sheet on the other side of the grill. The oil on this sheet was fairly generous– about 1/4 a cup, since I didn’t want the veggies to stick.

The veggie pan was very full– I’d put too many veggies on to cook well, and I had to stir gingerly so as not to lose anything into the fire (medium heat, btw). But the 2-1/2 lbs of beef was spread in single layer on the pan, and was soon cooking merrily. I stirred it a couple times. It browned nicely, smelled great, and was cooked through in 10 minutes. At that point I took it off with a slotted spoon into a bowl, leaving some good meat juice and a little oil on the pan. Then I was able to put half my cooking veggies onto the cookie sheet from which I’d just removed the meat.

The veggies cooked my more efficiently spread out like that, and soon all the veggies had some nicely browned surfaces. Once everything was cooked, I mixed the meat and vegetables together and served it all over rice.

The radish turned out to be rather sharp-tasting; none of us liked it that much and I don’t think we’ll be growing radishes any time soon. The familiar veggies: potatoes, carrots, and brussel sprouts were happily eaten, though next time I’ll add the brussel sprouts to the boiling water sooner. They would have benefitted from a bit more cooking. The surprise hit was the kohlrabi. It had a mild sweet flavor that reminded me somewhat of a squash, but with a firmer texture than squash. It was very nice and we are definitely adding it to our garden line-up.

The whole meal was gobbled quite happily with people coming back for more. My hubby said, “I would never have guessed that kohlrabi is that good.”

Hmmm….what to try next? Anyone know what to do with salsify?