As tomorrow is Halloween I thought this would be an ideal time to discuss the humble rutabaga.
When I was growing up in the UK, we always made Jack 'O' Lanterns from rutabagas or swedes, as they are known over there. Pumpkins were pricey, particularly around Halloween time so my mum always bought swedes. They are harder to carve since the flesh is very dense and not at all hollow like a pumpkin. I prefer them to pumpkins in that they are far cruder looking and therefore infinitely more creepy. Pumpkins are a bit jolly (orange, smooth etc), rutabagas are sinister and so perfectly suited to Halloween.They are also quite pungent, even now the smell of them takes me back to that time. Autumn was so exciting to me. First there was Halloween, then Guy Fawkes' night then my birthday and the smell of raw or cooking rutabaga is permeated with that childlike excitement still.
Rutabagas don't seem to be very popular in the US, in fact every time I bring them to the check out at my local grocery store the cashier looks utterly confounded by the thing and usually asks me what it is (mind you they also do this with leeks, parsnips and various other produce too). I live in the South where the climate is rather kind and rutabagas thrive in wet, cold climes so perhaps if I went farther north I would find them everywhere. The taste is mustardy and they are a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables that also boasts broccoli, spinach, arugala, Brussel sprouts, kale and more as members.
Despite their rather modest look, I think they are too often overlooked in cooking. They can be steamed then mashed with lots of butter and then mixed with steamed, mashed carrots as a much healthier and tastier alternative to mashed potatoes. If you roast them they develop a stringent and sweet flavor. They are a popular addition to Cornish pasties, and many British soups and stews contain them because they are plentiful in the Autumn and therefore cheap.
The stew below has a heartiness due to the rutabaga and lentils/beans however the tomato and vinegar lift the flavors, preventing it from becoming too stodgy.
Fall Stew with Rutabaga and Greens
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 pound of kielbasa sausage finely chopped
1 heaped teaspoon of smoked paprika
1/4 cup of cider or red wine vinegar
1 rutabaga cut into 1/2 inch cubes
28oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 cup of dried lentils (i like to use a mix of different varieties) or a 12 oz can of white beans or black eyed peas
Two big handfuls of greens such as kale or mustard greens (stalks removed and roughly chopped)
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