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6 winter vegetables to boost your performance

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Photo by Alice Henneman / Creative Commons 2.0

When sweater weather is in full swing, why load your grocery cart with asparagus from Peru or mealy tomatoes from who knows where, when your local soil can provide a selection of subterranean wonders? Wrongly maligned root vegetables are highly nutritious and easy on the wallet—and most have Herculean storage powers. While many root vegetables are now available year round, they’re at their best when the air outside is crisp—the cool temperatures convert root vegetables’ starches to sugar, making them that much sweeter to eat. Here are six to take out of the cellar and on to your dinner table.

1. Parsnips

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Troye Owens / Creative Commons 2.0

So much more than a ghostly version of Bugs Bunny’s favorite veggie, parsnips have a wonderful nutty, slightly sweet flavor with fragrant herbal complexity. In fact, the tubers are endowed with 60 percent more dietary fiber than carrots. By helping to waylay hunger, high-fiber foods like parsnips can help runners maintain their race weight over the winter months. As a bonus, you get a healthy amount of potassium to keep muscles functioning properly.

>How to enjoy: Look for parsnips that are firm, crisp and free of cracks. Size does matter: Smaller, thinner ones are sweeter and less woody. Unlike carrots, parsnips are almost always better when cooked. Try roasting them or add chunks to soups and stews.

2. Celery Root

Also called celeriac, this ugly duckling of the vegetable world tastes like a lovechild of celery and parsley with a starchy, potato-like texture. The frumpy orbs contain a surfeit of vitamin K, shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer in a large 2014 Journal of Nutrition study. Celery root also delivers the necessary complex carbohydrates to fuel hard-charging muscles. Once only found on the rough-hewn tables of farmers’ markets, you can now find celery root at many supermarkets.

>How to enjoy: The root must be peeled generously with a sharp knife prior to eating. Only select firm celery root without any soft spots. Grate and add to slaws, puree into soups or mash like you would potatoes.

3. Rutabagas

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Tim Sackton / Creative Commons 2.0

Though sometimes wrongly labeled as a turnip, the rutabaga is larger and has a yellow-tinged creamy flesh that is less peppery and slightly sweeter tasting. On top of being a good source of fiber, rutabaga steamrolls many other root vegetables when it comes to vitamin C. Scientists in Finland determined that loading up on vitamin C can help runners slash their risk of coming down with the common cold by up to 50 percent.

>How to enjoy: Look for smooth, hard, blemish-free rutabagas that are heavy for their size. They should be peeled before cooking. Toss chunks into curries, soups and root-vegetable medleys for roasting. Rutabaga is also excellent when steamed and then mashed with grainy mustard, a touch of butter and chopped chives.

4. Beets

Make sure the beet goes on this winter. The deep crimson that temporarily stains your hands comes courtesy of a group of phytonutrients called betalains. By helping mop up cell-damaging free radicals, betalains appear to be an ally in the battle against cancer. Beets are also a rich source of naturally occurring nitrates, which researchers believe to dilate blood vessels, lower blood pressure and increase oxygen delivery to working muscles. Ultimately, a number of studies have indeed shown that beets—who knew?—can help athletes maintain a faster pace.

>How to enjoy: Since beets have some of the highest natural sugar content of any vegetable, they can lend a satisfying sweetness to recipes ranging from soups to salads to chocolate desserts to even smoothies. Foodie websites like foodgawker.com are a great place to find beet and other root-vegetable recipe inspiration.

5. Sunchokes

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Flickr user net_efekt / Creative Commons 2.0

There are plenty of reasons to get choked up about this knobby root. Also known as Jerusalem artichokes and related to the sunflower, sunchokes add bright flavor reminiscent of jicama, water chestnuts and apple to the winter menu. Nutritionally, they provide a wallop of the soluble fiber inulin. In the gut, inulin acts a food source for helpful bacteria called probiotics that armor plate your digestive and immune health. Five grams of energy-boosting iron per cup furthers sunchokes’ health cachet.

>How to enjoy: Sunchokes can be boiled, roasted, steamed or pureed. They are also excellent when thinly shaved and served raw in salads. Or slice sunchokes into matchsticks, toss with oil and seasonings then bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes for a healthy take on French fries. Blissfully, the very thin knobbly skin does not need to be peeled prior to cooking; just give it a good scrub.

6. Turnips

The closest relatives to the turnip in the vegetable kingdom are radish and arugula, which explains its peppery bite. The most common purple-top type is a rich source of vitamin C, an overachieving vitamin that may help you side-step the winter blues. A study in the Journal of Nutritional Sciences discovered that individuals with higher vitamin C levels were less likely to feel down in the dumps. It appears that the nutrient plays an important role in stabilizing emotions in the brain. And be sure to save the vitamin-packed turnip greens if attached; they can be sautéed, steamed or stir fried.

>How to enjoy: You can enjoy turnips raw in salads and slaws or sliced as part of a vegetable platter with dips. Also soak sliced turnips in pickling brine; pickled turnips make a powerful addition to sandwiches. The bulbs become less “hot” once cooked, so try them in lentil soups or pot roast.

Read on for a delicious, nutritious recipe: Roasted Root Medley with Maple Dressing

Roasted Root Medley with Maple Dressing

This delicious, nutrient-packed marriage of hearty vegetables is sure to become a staple on your winter menu.

Makes 6 Servings

3 lbs assorted root vegetables

1 tbsp canola or grapeseed oil

1 bunch kale, stems removed and roughly chopped

3 tbsp olive or walnut oil

2 tbsp pure maple syrup

1 tbsp cider vinegar

2 tsp grainy Dijon-style mustard

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chop root vegetables into equal sizes and toss with oil. Spread on a baking sheet or large roasting pan and roast until tender, stirring at least once, about 35 minutes. Turn off the oven and spread the kale over top of the cooked vegetables. Return pan to oven and let rest until kale has wilted.

In a small bowl, whisk together olive or walnut oil, maple syrup, cider vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and black pepper. Toss dressing with vegetables.

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This article originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.