Saturday, January 12, 2019


Parsnips and other lumpen vegetables. Clockwise from top left, chayote, rutabaga, spaghetti squash, kohlrabi and parsnips.

I have a thing about parsnips. I used to pack them in my luggage when returning from a trip to the U.S. That was before they turned up in local markets. I love parsnips pan-roasted alongside a chicken or mashed with olive oil.   

I also quite like other knobbly, gnarly, lumpen vegetables such as rutabaga, kohlrabi, celeriac and chayote. Except for chayote, none of these uglies were grown in southern Spain. Now, the European common market brings all sorts of “exotic”  produce even to my small village.

Except for their lumpy shapes, these vegetables are not related. However, they are all good either raw or cooked. They all somewhat resemble potatoes—although with a much lower carb count. They all are improved with lashings of olive oil or butter, bacon or cream.

Celeriac or celery root (apio-nabo) is the beauty of the bunch. This vegetable (Apium graveolens) has a pronounced celery flavour, but without the stringy fibres of celery stalks. It's crisp and crunchy when raw (shredded with remoulade sauce for a classic French bistro salad) or wonderfully smooth and creamy when pureed, as in celery root soup. I love it diced in any vegetable soup.

Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea). In Spanish, this is colinabo. But, so little is it known in Spain that the nomenclature is often confused with that of the rutabaga. Kohlrabi is a cultivar of wild cabbage. In spite of its appearance, it is not a root, but the thickened stem of a "broccoli" plant (sort of). I like it, thinly sliced, in stir-fry dishes, a crisp substitute for water chestnuts.  

Chayote (Sechium edule) is a member of the cucurbitacea family that includes cucumbers, squash and melon. In Spanish markets I knew it as papa del moro, or "Moorish potato," a misleading name, as the vegetable was unknown in Spain in Moorish times. It comes from the New World. It's also know as patata voladora, or "flying potato," as it swings from climbing vines. It has a remarkable similarity to potatoes (but is very low carb). I used it in a gratin dish with cheese and, grated with potato, for latkes (potato pancakes) made with chickpea flour and Indian spices.

Rutabaga (Brassica napobrassica) looks like a giant turnip. It's actually a cross between the turnip and cabbage families. The name comes from the Swedish word for "lumpy root." Rutabaga is also known as "Swede" and "neep." In Spanish it is nabo sueco. Rutabaga is a good substitute for potatoes (or, thanks to its yellow color, for sweet potatoes). It's milder than turnips in flavour, earthy and slightly sweet. 

Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) are related to carrots (chirivìas in Spanish).  They are decidedly sweet, delicious roasted or pureed.

Rutabaga and Potato Mash
Nabo Sueco con Patatas

Rutabaga mashed with potatoes and garlic makes a fine side dish with sausages and black-eyed peas.

In this recipe you could use any of the featured vegetables in place of rutabaga—parsnips, chayote, kohlrabi or celeriac. If a whole head of garlic seems excessive, use just two cloves, cooked and mashed with the vegetables.

Rutabaga needs long cooking to render it soft enough to mash, so start it before the potatoes. 

Serves 6.

¾ pound rutabaga
¾ pound potatoes
1 small head of garlic
1/3 cup cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika)
Freshly ground black pepper

Rutabaga is pale yellow.

Peel the rutabaga and cut in 1 ½ -inch cubes. Peel potatoes and cut them in half. Slice the top off the head of garlic. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rutabaga and cook for 20 minutes. Add the potatoes and garlic to the pot and cook until they are tender when pierced with a skewer, 20 minutes. Drain the vegetables, reserving about ½ cup of the cooking liquid. Separate the head of garlic.

Mash potatoes and rutabaga.

Add the cream cheese and oil to the drained vegetables. Mash them with a potato masher or put through a ricer. Add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to make a smooth mixture. 

Squeeze the cloves of garlic out of their skins. Mash them in a small bowl, then blend into the vegetables along with pimentón, salt and pepper. 

Serve immediately or place in a lightly oiled casserole and reheat in a medium oven.

Mashed rutabaga and potatoes.

Mashed rutabaga and potatoes with chorizo criollo and black-eyed peas.

Go ahead, mix it all together!

More recipes for gnarly veggies:


  1. I looooooove parsnips. I hated them when I was a kid because my mom would slice them thin and fry them until they burned – blech. Roasted they are so good! I have never even attempted to cook a chayote, but maybe I will try now.

    1. Jen: I think it was a recipe for parsnip soufflé, way back in my early-married days, made with a huge quantity of butter, that sold me on this vegetable. Now, like you, I love them simply roasted.

  2. Didn't you once make a parsnip souffle when I was visiting in Spain?

    Your vegetable chips are wonderful!

    1. Patty: Parsnip soufflé was my specialty, but probably my mother brought the parsnips to Spain. Glad you like the vegetable chips.

    2. Is your recipe for parsnip souffle on your blog, or would you share it? Thanks,

    3. Patty: I no longer have the recipe for parsnip soufflé. I remember that it was loaded with butter--maybe why I came to love parsnips! I don't remember that it had cheese.