Celeriac, or celery root

Growing up, I never thought much about root vegetables. All I knew was that I loved potatoes, carrots, and radishes. And I hated beets. Turnips were added to chicken soup. Parsnips went into tsimmis. It never went much beyond that.

Of course, today our root vegetable vocabulary is much expanded—as are the ways they’re prepared. We roast them, feature them in soups, shave them for salads, slice and fry them into chips, and even incorporate them into sweet dishes.

And yet, there’s a whole substrata of root vegetables that don’t fit so easily into our new food porn culture. If produce were entered in a beauty contest, these roots with their strange protrusions and sometimes hairy exteriors would be dismissed with the Miss Congeniality award. If they were there at all.

Celeriac (or celery root). Rutabagas. Salsify. Sunchokes. These gnarly underground vegetables get little respect among the general public. Yet, passionate home cooks and chefs value their versatility and enormous flavor. And, we shouldn’t forget that they are storehouses of all sorts of vitamins and minerals, have lots of fiber, and are low in fat.

Plus, they tend to be pretty inexpensive.

Awhile back I talked to some San Diego chefs about these vegetables. Matt Gordon, chef/owner of two San Diego restaurants counts these ugly ducklings among his favorite ingredients to cook with and eat.

“I especially love celery root, parsnips, and sunchokes,” he said. “One thing they all have in common is a fairly high sugar content, making them easy to caramelize and make delicious. I like to simply slow roast them with garlic, olive oil, butter, salt, and pepper. They’re also great pureed into a sauce or fried into chips.”

Amy DiBiase of Tidal grew up with root vegetables in Maine and recalls her grandmother’s weekly New England boiled dinner that featured all sorts of root vegetables infused with the flavors of the ham they were cooked with.

“She also got me hooked on boiled parsnips and carrots mashed together with butter and salt,” says DiBiase, who attributes the neglect of strange looking root vegetables to “a fear of the unknown.”

Peeled salsify

Peeled salsify

Long, skinny salsify may be one of the more mysterious and most underutilized of the weird sisters of the underground. But chef Karrie Hills finds that it’s not only a great binding agent—thanks to all the starch it contains—but has a very distinctive, earthy flavor, not unlike a mushroom.

“It pairs well with something sweet like corn, and it holds up well to different poultry, smoked meats, and fish,” she pointed out. “When cooked it’s gelatinous—kind of like poi—and we’re not used to that in our cuisine, so pair it with something familiar to take on that flavor.”

Hills relishes turning vegetables like jicama into a confit. Or cooking them down in leftover bacon drippings and jamming them to pair with roasted meat. Or sautéing them with butter and herbs for a side dish.

Mashing these homely vegetables is a tasty way to diversify from plain mashed potatoes. Celery root—which has that distinctive acidic, tangy celery flavor—is a particularly good candidate for that. Gordon will boil chunks of it in milk after peeling and cubing it. When soft, he purees it with some of the milk to reduce the amount of added cream and butter mashed potatoes usually require. Then he adds that to his boiled potatoes to mash together.

“Look for a firm, not too dark large bulb,” he suggested. “They’re usually pretty dirty and hairy but you can tell how fresh they are by their firmness and if the skin’s a nice light beige.”

Another preparation hint comes from DiBiase, who was schooled to clean the outer ring of all root vegetables. Cut one in half and you’ll see that quarter-inch ring. Trim it away using a sharp knife.

“These root vegetables are one of the best things that happened to us in the culinary world,” raved Hills. “Plus, they have a great shelf life. They’re a great pantry item for the home because they hold up for some time.”

10 Things to Do with Weird Root Vegetables

  1. Boil them and add them to mashed potatoes.
  2. Peel, cut up, and roast in a pan with beef, lamb, or poultry so they absorb juices.
  3. Julienne celery root and fennel with apple and a little lemon juice and fresh herbs for a slaw.
  4. Thinly slice and fry sunchokes into chips.
  5. Boil with other flavorful vegetables like onions or leeks, garlic, and herbs, and puree into a soup or add to a stew.
  6. Reduce the amount of water when boiling and purée into a sauce.
  7. Grate and mix with onion, bread crumbs, egg, and garlic to make pancakes.
  8. Chop or grate peeled salsify and add to vegetables to enhance pureed soups.
  9. Pair rutabagas with fruit for in baking.
  10. Char root vegetables to bring out sweetness and bitterness and pair with other charred vegetables like corn in a dish.

Here are recipes from each of the chefs:

Celery Root Mashed Potatoes
from Matt Gordon
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
1 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ cups cream mixture (see recipe below)
2 cups celery root puree (see recipe below)


  1. Steam potatoes until tender.
  2. Using potato ricer, rice potatoes in to large mixing bowl.
  3. Add salt, pepper, cream mixture, and celery root, and mix gently with wooden spoon until thoroughly combined but still fluffy.
  4. Taste and adjust butter or seasonings as necessary

Recipe for cream mixture

1 ½ cups cream
½ pound butter


  1. Place milk and butter in sauce pan on stove at low heat until the milk just simmers.
  2. Remove from heat and use as needed for mashed potato recipe.

Recipe for celery root puree

1 whole celery root, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
Enough milk to just cover the celery root in a sauce pan


  1. Boil until the celery root is tender.
  2. Puree with hand blender to a smooth paste.
  3. Cool and cover until ready to add to mashed potatoes.


Grilled Salsify Blue Corn Cakes with Truffle Cream
From Karrie Hills
Yield: 2 dozen dollar-size pancakes

For Grilled Vegetables
3 salsify, peeled
1 ear of corn, shucked
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

For Truffle Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon white truffle oil
Pinch of salt

For Pancakes
1 ½ cups milk
2 Eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup blue corn meal
Pinch of salt
Roasted corn
Roasted salsify


  1. Toss together salsify, corn, olive oil and salt and pepper. Grill till tender.
  2. Cut corn off the ear. Grate salsify. Set aside.
  3. Using a stand mixer with a whip attachment, whip the cream to stiff peaks, then add truffle oil and salt. Mix lightly. Chill.
  4. To make pancakes, whisk milk and eggs with melted butter. Add flour, corn meal, and salt to combine. Fold in roasted corn and salsify.
  5. Add pancake batter to a pastry bag or large plastic storage bag, cutting half inch off the bottom.
  6. Heat a nonstick sauté pan on medium heat. Spray with non-stick spay. Squeeze small amounts of batter onto the hot pan. Flip after one minute, looking for a light color.
  7. Assemble corn cakes on a tray pass as appetizers, and garnish with the truffle cream.

Rutabaga Ginger Soup

Rutabaga and Ginger Soup with Brown Butter Froth
From Amy DiBiase
Yield: 3 quarts or 12 servings

3 large rutabaga
4 leeks, trimmed
4 ounces fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced
4 ounces peeled garlic cloves
¼ cup canola oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ dozen sprigs of fresh thyme
Brown butter froth*


  1. Using a knife slice of each end and then trim the outer edge or ring of the rutabagas. Then slice into ¼-inch pieces.
  2. Trim off the green stalk and root end of the leeks. Slice thinly lengthwise and place in a bowl of water to let dirt fall to the bottom.
  3. Add canola oil to a heavy-bottom pot and heat on medium high. Add leeks and half the salt to sweat until soft. As they begin cooking, add the ginger and garlic. Then add the rutabaga pieces, thyme, and the rest of the salt.
  4. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil, then reduce to simmer and cook until the vegetables are soft, about half an hour.
  5. Turn off the heat and scoop the vegetables and broth into a blender a little at a time and puree. You can control the soup’s thickness by how much of the broth you add to the vegetables.
  6. Strain the pureed soup to remove excess fibers. Adjust seasonings. Top with Brown butter froth.

*Brown Butter Froth
½ pound butter
¾ cup hot water from tap
Fresh lemon juice


  1. Cut butter in half. Add one half to a saucepan with a handle and brown it until the melted butter is very dark and has a very nutty fragrance. While it’s browning cut the remaining butter into pieces.
  2. Very carefully remove the saucepan from the heat. Tip it away from you while adding the hot water. The butter/water mixture will spray so be careful.
  3. Put the saucepan back on the heat and add the rest of the butter. Use a stick blender to emulsify the mixture till frothy. Season with salt and squeeze in just a little lemon.
  4. Top the soup with spoonfuls of the froth. You can save the remaining mixture and add to soups or stews or sautéed vegetables.

Have favorite weird root veggies of your own? How do you prepare them?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

Last updated by at .