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?


  1. Jeanne A says:

    I’ve never eaten radish cooked—or kohlrabi either for that matter. My mom used to slice them up and we’d eat them raw. I like them that way. I do like a lot of veggies better raw than cooked—even carrots.

  2. Raw radishes are great. That is how we have them. I have never seen them cooked either. Parsnips, by he way are an all time favourite. You can never have enough! Roasted, they are superb. They also caramelise very well. And parsnip soup is lovely.
    I do a lot of roasted veg, especially in winter. Just chop up potato, butternut, red onion, sweetpotato, parsnip, and red, green and yellow pepper. Toss in a little olive oil and cook on a baking sheet. You can add herbs and garlic too. Wonderful. If you are in a hurry, dice them all up small and they cook really fast and you get a mouthfull of different flavours at the same time.

    Your garden is looking really good, Mary! I love the idea of a root cellar. My apples never last long as I have nowhere to store them properly.

  3. Salsify is tasty and high in vitamins but can be a pain to prepare, although I find the taste worth the effort.

    To clean: brush any remaining dirt off of the stalk. Chop off top and tip. Hold stalk under stream of running warm water and slice off skin, which will be very brown, with a very sharp knife or a vegetable peeler. Place in water bath with a little lemon juice to prevent oxidation before preparing. You will want to make sure you have on an apron or clothes you don’t care about, and may wish to use rubber gloves, because salsify exudes a thin gluey substance that is impossible to get off of clothes and adheres very tenacious to anything it touches at all. (This is why people often avoid preparing it fresh and buy it in cans or frozen in Europe.) This problem goes away once it is cooked. I have never had it served raw, but would tend to think that the glue issue would interfere with this.

    Europeans call salsify “poor man’s oyster” or “winter asparagus.” In principle you could prepare it according to any recipe you use for white asparagus (e.g., steam the stalk and then wrap in a slice of smoked or cooked ham). The classic European method is to parboil until tender in water with a little salt and then prepare a cream sauce or a lemon cream sauce. My personal favorite is a soup on a chicken broth base with tiny diced sauteed shallots and equal amounts of salsify and tart apple, both pureed, with a shot of vinegar, served with crusty bread. It is also tasty in a salad (diced, cooked) with an equal amount of green olives and balsamic vinegar.

  4. I am looking forward to hearing how you make out with your root cellar. We have one in our “someday” plans.

  5. I love, love, love kohlrabi!! Not sure if everyone will like this, but I enjoy it raw with just a little bit of salt. The flavor is nice and the texture is amazing- super crisp! M y mom introduced me to kohlrabi along with lots of other “weird” veggies, so it’s nice to read about you introducing your kiddos to new foods.

  6. We joined a CSA and got two bundles of radishes, and are expecting kholrabi. Thankfully they give us recipe ideas each week. They gave us a good one for radishes where you chop them up into tiny pieces and saute them with shallots, olive oli, butter, sugar, lemon jucie and zest and sesame seeds. I enjoyed it (and I don’t like radishes raw) as topping for crackers. Their idea for kholraibi was a type of kohl-slaw.

  7. Hello,

    I live in Saskatchewan, Canada….Radishes, turnips, and kholrabi have been main staples of our families gardens for years!!

    Radishes.. I have to say we have never eaten them cooked. What we usually do is slice them up for a salad, or marinate them with vingear, salt and pepper or just eat them like that!!

    Turnips …. we eat them raw or cooked. If you want just google “cooked turnips” and you should find a nice brown sugar recipe to include with your cooked turnips… if not just email me and I will provide you with a recipe!!

    Kholrabi.. we have always just ate them raw… not sure what else to do with them….

    Happy Growing!!

    Lana Lee Ferguson

  8. I use kohlrabi and radishes both raw. We slice them up and dip them in veggie dip. The kohlrabi has a nice anise-like flavor, and the radishes are kind of spicey! Yum!!

  9. Kohlrabi is a favourite at our house. We like it raw with just a bit of salt spinkled on each slice. We also eat raw radishes that way. For that matter our kids prefer to eat their cabbage the same way, raw with salt! But I do cook with it (cabbage) alot when we have it.

  10. One of the things I love about the house we’re moving to this month is that it has a concrete sub-basement and space underneath the house. I’m looking forward to storing beans and rice there, as well as yams. I hadn’t considered potatoes, turnips, apples or the like. I’m very interested in hearing how you’re doing your root cellar. I may be trying to emulate one down there if it means keeping items longer!

  11. Hmm..wow kohlabri has gotten great reviews. I may have to give it a try. Maybe even plant some.

    I’d love to hear more about the root cellar idea.


  12. I’ve never tried Salsify but this cookbook http://www.solsexchange.com/store/mcart.php?ID=507 (which I LOVE) describes it as a Oysterlike flavor that can be used “raw, cooked, in soups or with meats” It also has 3 recipies Mock oyster soup, mock oysters, and Baked Salsify.

    It’s on my list to try next year.

  13. I have friends who use daikon radishes in cole-slaw (just shred it up like a carrot)…it adds a really nice flavor and crispness to it. I’ll have to ask for the recipe. I’ve never had the daikon radishes cooked, though.

    All this garden talk on your blog is making me long for a garden space of my own. My parents always had a huge garden like yours (and still do), but I live too far away to get my hands dirty in it. But, man do I have memories of fresh garden produce. Some of my favorite summer memories are of picking the first ripe tomato and eating it before anyone else could notice….picking beans with my faithful old english sheepdog (who, like me, would pick the beans right off the plants and eat them up), and helping my mom pickle cucumbers.

    I miss those days of summer gardening.

  14. We eat radishes raw with a little sprinkle of salt, sliced up in salads, or thinly sliced and tossed in oil and vinegar. Never cooked here either.

    We like Kohlabri too! Salsify though? Not quite sure what to do with it!

  15. All I know about kohlrabi is that my grandpa used to grow it when I was a kid and my dad called them “little green pigs” b/c if you chop the leaves and turn them on their sides, that is what they look like. And he did not like them either so he said it w/ some disdain 🙂

  16. i love reading about all this, but must admit it is way of my head. 🙂

  17. This is one of my favorite dishes and it uses Daikon. I’ve only made it a few times long ago, but it is delicious. You can find it in some Chinese restaurants that serve dim sum, and some of the ingredients are best found in Asian markets. It’s savory, not sweet.

    White Turnip Pudding Cake
    2 1/2 c. daikon
    2 1/4 c. chicken broth
    4 T oil
    1/3 c. dried shrimp
    1 c. Chinese bbq pork or cooked ham
    2 T. dried salted turnip, minced
    1 t. salt
    1/2 c. green onions, chopped
    1/2 c. cilantro, chopped
    2 c. cake flour

    Soak shrimp for 1 hr, then drain and finely dice. Bring diced turnips, 2 T. oil, and 1 c. broth to a boil and simmer for 12-15 minutes or until turnip is soft. Do not drain.

    Heat wok and add 2 T oil and stir fry diced shrimp for 1 min, then add diced prok, salted turnips, 1 t. salt, and 1/3 c. each of the green onions and cilantro. Set aside.

    Mix cake flour with 1 1/4 c. chicken broth until smooth. Add stir fried mixture and boiled turnip, including the remaining liquid in the pot. Mix well. Pour into a greased 9 inch cake pan.

    Set pan over steam rack in wok. Cover, bring to boil, and turn heat to simmer. Steam for 1/2 hour or longer until cake is set. Sprinkle remaining green onions and cilantro over cake. Cool for at least 1/2 hour before cutting. Optional- brown in a little oil for crunchy edges. Enjoy!

  18. Thanks for the book recommendation – I will definately look for it !!

    BTW – the photos of you r garden are lovely !!

    God Bless.

  19. Mary,
    I searched your website and saw the measurements and pics of your garden. I have been reading your blog for months and somehow missed those critical posts. 🙂 Just this past weekend my husband agreed to let me use a 12X19 section of our yard for a larger garden. I had been using an empty flour bed before that. We live in a suburban neighborhood, similar to the movie Edward Scissorhands if you know what I mean, so there is not too much room in our yard. However, this yard is MUCH bigger than we had in the house we owned prior to this, so I am having a field day…so to speak. 😉
    Either way, can someone help me. I had to till the 12×19 area the other day as it was covered in sod since it had been part of the yard. I finally got the majority of the grass out and now I am wondering if I should do raised beds with wood borders, or use it as is. One reason I was leaning towards the raised beds was for resale value. People don’t expect to see a dug up garden where we live, so I thought it would look nicer if and when we ever sell the house. Plus, we have a dog and 3 kids, so I thought it might help to kind of raise it up. So anyone have any advice on that?
    Now , the biggest problem I have is that my two eggplant plants are looking suspicious. They are the Black Beauty variety, and they do have several eggplants on them. The problem is that they are NOT at all black. They are more like purplish/green, streaked looking. I did not start these from seed. Do you think thye were mislabled at the nursery or does it take quite some time for that variety to actually turn black?! One is quite large. Maybe 6 inches, and very fat. Please, help.
    Thanks everyone. 🙂