What will you be planting this spring?

A Root Vegetable Primer

by Leanne Ely

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Last year, I had a great bumper crop of carrots, beets, kohlrabi and more in my garden. This year, a mysterious critter took them all out. Thank heavens for farmers' markets!

Root vegetables are easy to grow and offer so much nutritionally (and deliciously, too!)

I thought I'd put together a little primer for you to get all you can from root vegetables, including how easy they are to grow and how to prepare them!

Carrots - Perhaps the first food that comes to mind when you think of root vegetables, carrots are simple to grow (you just pop the seed in the soil, water and wait, really!), and they're ready to eat as soon as they come out of the ground. It's always such a treat to go out to the garden and pull out a carrot, wiping it on the grass and biting into it. Carrots are a staple in my house. I use them every time I make bone broth and soups and put them in salads whenever I can. If you're cooking them as a side dish, try not to overcook them or they turn to mush. If you haven't tried roasting carrots before, I highly recommend this method. They are sweet and delicious! Carrots are extremely high in carotenoids and beta-carotene, offering a number of health benefits.

Beets - One of my favorite roots, beetroot is grown easily like carrots, and I especially love that I can eat the root and the leaves of the plant. You can eat beets raw in your green juices or even shaved into a salad. But most commonly, beets are steamed, roasted, or boiled. I enjoy cooking sliced beets in butter and lemon juice with salt and pepper. It's absolutely delicious, especially if you add the beet greens in at the end of the cooking time! Beets, with their deep purple color, are full of nutrients. They contain powerful compounds that protect against certain birth defects, cancers and heart disease.

Parsnips - Another easy-to-plant vegetable to consider for your garden, the creamy white parsnip is delicious. Their taste is really nothing like carrots. They're slightly sweeter, and they are quite mild in flavor. Parsnips are most commonly cooked as carrots are, but I adore them drizzled with oil and roasted in the form of parsnip fries. They are also delicious when cooked with carrots, beets, and other root vegetables. Yum! Parsnips are a great source of vitamins and minerals, particularly copper and Vitamin A.

Parsley root - There is a special variety of parsley that is grown for its large parsnip-like root rather than just for its leaves (though you can eat the leaves if you like). Parsley root is most often used as an aromatic because it tastes a bit like carrot, celeriac (celery root), and parsley all mixed together. It's difficult to describe. Like most root vegetables, it's easy to grow, so why not give it a go? Parsley root is quite good used raw in coleslaw or roasted with a mixture of other roots. Parsley root is an excellent source of folic acid, flavonoids, and antioxidants.

Rutabaga - I am referring to the tan-colored root with the purple ring around the top. (Turnips are white and are much smaller.) It isn't hard to grow rutabagas, but their roots will ripen best when the weather is cool. They have to be planted so they have time to mature when it's nice and cool. You'll need to factor that in. They need up to 100 days from the time they're planted to the time they're harvested. I love eating crunchy raw rutabaga strips, but I also enjoy them in fall soups or mashed with sweet potatoes. Rutabagas are sulfur veggies with cancer-fighting properties.

Turnip - If you plant your turnips late in August, you will still be able to enjoy your harvest as turnips don't mind the cooler temps. You can eat turnips raw or cooked. As a matter of fact, you can treat it exactly the same as you would rutabagas. One important thing to know about turnips is that they start to lose their sweetness the longer you cook them. And don't forget to add those turnip greens to your salads for a little boost of nutrition, too. Turnips are very high in Vitamin C, so eat up!

Celeriac (Celery root) - Celeriac, commonly referred to as celery root, is one of the ugliest vegetables I can think of, but it's been a great friend in the kitchen because it makes a great stand in for white potatoes. I would not recommend celery root for a new gardener. This plant needs a long growing season (plan for 120 days after a two-week germination period), and its seedlings can be finicky. By the way, celery root is not actually the root of the celery plant, but it is a relative. It also doesn't really taste like celery. It has a nice mild earthy flavor. After you peel your celery root, you can grate it into a salad or cook it up like you would a potato. This veggie is full of fiber, antioxidants, and minerals.

Sweet potato - I'm not going to lie to you. Sweet potatoes are not difficult to grow, especially in the south, but they can be a pain in the "you know what." Sweet potatoes can totally take over your garden with their invasive creeping vines, and they must be harvested regularly and really managed well. Sweet potatoes do contain a ton of antioxidants and minerals and definitely belong on your grocery list if you're not going to grow them yourself. One of my favorite ways to cook them is to put them in the slow cooker on low first thing in the morning. Then I can have perfectly cooked sweet potatoes at dinner time!

Leanne Ely is a New York Times best selling author of Body Clutter and the popular Saving Dinner cookbook series. According to Woman's Day Magazine, she is the expert on family cooking.

Leanne's syndicated newspaper column, The Dinner Diva can be found in 250 newspapers nationwide and in Canada. Her vast broadcast experience includes media satellite tours, QVC several times as well as guesting on several national television shows, including HGTV's Simple Solutions, ABC Family's Living the Life, Ivanhoe's Smart Woman, Small Talk for Parents and Talk of the Town. She has guest chef-ed on the cooking show, Carolina Cooks and has taught cooking classes all over the country for Bloomingdale's.

In addition, she is a seasoned radio personality. Leanne's own radio show, Heart of A Woman aired during drive time in two major California markets, Los Angeles and San Diego. Her current show, The Dinner Diva is one of the top Blog Talk Radio shows on the Internet.

On the Internet, she pens the Food for Thought column for the immensely popular, FlyLady.net, with over half a million readers weekly. She has been featured in Woman's Day magazine, the Chicago Tribune, St. Petersburg Times, Orange County Register - to name a few. Additionally, she is a sought after speaker and has spoken all over the country, with keynote addresses to corporate and non-profit entities. SavingDinner.com. Visit Leanne Ely on Google+.

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