While many other vegetables skyrocket to mainstream fame, rutabaga remains the unsung hero of the produce section. Nutritious, affordable, and long-lasting, rutabaga is poised to be the next big hit on your dinner table. This guide to rutabaga has tips on buying, storing, prepping, and using this humble root, with links to tasty plant-based recipes.
It feels like no one is rooting for rutabaga these days. It’s not much to look at, especially compared to aesthetically pleasing rainbow carrots and watermelon radishes a mere arm’s length away.
Even turnips, with which it’s sometimes confused, are better looking. But here’s one instance where you shouldn’t judge a book (or a vegetable) by its cover.
What is Rutabaga and Where Did it Come From?
Rutabaga is part of the brassica family of vegetables. Sometimes confused with turnip, it’s sometimes labeled as Swedish turnip, or more briefly “swede.”
It has been an essential staple of Swedish cuisine since the 17th century, around which time it’s believed that the wild Brassica rapa and Brassica oleracea hybridized to form this new plant species.
The common belief that it was a cross between modern turnips and cabbage is now being challenged by the latest scientific research suggesting this different path was more likely what led to the round taproot we know today.
The mildly sweet, creamy yellow flesh is incredibly versatile. Rutabaga can be steamed, boiled, and mashed like potatoes. It can be roasted, steamed, sautéed, or cut into thin strips to be eaten raw. Once you get through the thick peel, a world of culinary potential awaits.
How to Buy and Store Rutabaga
If you’ve never purchased rutabaga before, consider it as you would most other root vegetables. Fresh rutabaga should be firm, smooth, and heavy for its size, with no visible blemishes or bruises.
Most are roughly the size of a softball, but can range from something more akin to a baseball to a volleyball. Smaller specimens are generally sweeter in flavor with a denser, smoother texture.
Store uncut, whole rutabagas in a dry, cool place for 1 to 2 months. A paper bag is ideal to allow them to breathe without rotting while keeping them in the dark. Light is liable to cause sprouting, which is both unsightly and bitter.
Once peeled or otherwise prepped, keep rutabaga in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 7 days. Otherwise, it can be frozen for up to 6 months.
If purchasing direct from farmers markets, you can simply scrub the vegetables well and eat the whole thing. Rutabagas sold in grocery stores are sometimes coated in a thick layer of wax that must be peeled or cut away. Wash them only right before using to prolong their shelf life.
How to Prep and Cook Rutabaga
No matter the recipe, it’s always best to cut rutabaga into smaller pieces for quicker and more consistent cooking.
Whole rutabaga can be rather unwieldy, so your best bet is to start by halving the vegetable first with a sharp knife. Next, once you have a flat surface for it to balance it on, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch slices.
If you’ve scrubbed the vegetable well, and it’s unwaxed, you can keep the skin on, but for aesthetic purposes most cooks prefer to peel the rutabaga. In that case, use a sharp paring knife to remove the skin. If you’d like a super-detailed tutorial on prepping rutabaga, you’ll find How to Cut and Peel a Rutabaga at Irish Mom.
Cut cubes can be boiled or steamed for 10 to 15 minutes, until fork tender. For crispy, golden-brown edges, try tossing them with a splash of olive oil and baking at 425º F for 20 to 25 minutes, or air frying at 370º F for 15 minutes.
Of course, you don’t even need to cook them at all, since they make great raw crudités for dipping into hummus, cashew cheese, and more.
To switch up your usual recipes, you can simply replace white potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, carrots, radishes, or kohlrabi with an equal amount of rutabaga, no matter the preparation.
Rutabaga fries: Cut rutabaga into thick fry shapes, toss with olive oil and your favorite seasonings, and roast in a 425º F oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
Rutabaga Nutrition Notes
Remarkably low in calories yet nutrient-dense, an entire rutabaga, which averages just slightly less than one pound in total weight, clocks in at less than 150 calories.
High in fiber for greater satiety and improved digestion, you can easily use them to bulk up other recipes. When it comes to vitamins and minerals, rutabagas are an excellent source of Vitamin C, potassium, manganese, thiamin, Vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. See the complete nutrition profile of rutabaga.
Hearty Winter Root Vegetable Soup is a chunky medley of rutabaga, parsnips, carrots, and potatoes, with a hint of vegan cheese.
Swede Soup: From Greedy Gourmet, a swede (rutabaga) soup is exactly what you need when the weather turns chilly. It’s full of nutrients, and is a soups that you can eat buckets of without having to worry about your waistline. Similar root vegetables as the recipe above, but presented as a puree.
Roasted Swede (Rutabaga): From Veggie Desserts, a tasty side dish that comes out of the oven. Swede, aka rutabaga, is a sweet root vegetable that’s perfect for oven roasting, especially with a dash of nutmeg.
Balsamic Roasted Root Vegetables: From The Roasted Root, a root vegetable medley spiced with cumin and oregano loaded with antioxidants and vitamins. This immunity-boosting side dish goes well alongside virtually any main entrée.
Instant Pot Rutabaga Mash: From Recipes from a Pantry, a great side dish that’s quick and easy to make in the Instant Pot. Delicious and satisfying, the whole family will enjoy this tasty dish.
More Rutabaga Recipes and Ideas for Using
Salad: Shredded, shaved, or julienne rutabaga makes a wonderful, crisp addition to leafy green salads and slaws. It has a slightly sharper flavor raw, which means it’s perfect for pairing with sliced apples and dates with a sweet vinaigrette.
Mashed: Unlike potatoes, rutabaga will never become gluey no matter how much you mash them, so have at it! They’re naturally creamy, buttery, and rich, so you can add less fat, too. Mashed rutabagas with miso butter are brilliant for the holidays, or any old weekday.
Roasted: Rutabaga is delicious roasted on its own or as part of a medley with other root vegetables and tubers including beets, sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, etc. Toss with a little olive oil and roast at 425º F for 20 to 30 minutes, or until touched with brown spots and soft inside, stirring every so often.
French fries: Deep-fried or baked rutabaga fries are the ideal smart snack. They hit all those classic comfort food cravings with much more nutrition than just empty starch.
More soups: Who needs heavy cream when you have the power of plants on your side? This simple roasted swede soup is unbelievably creamy, velvety smooth, and downright decadent without a drop of dairy.
Gratin: Otherwise known as lanttulaatikko, this Finnish dish is a sweet take on the classic gratin, using warm cinnamon and other spices to emphasize the natural sugars of the rutabaga. It’s especially popular around Christmastime as a festive side dish.
Pasta substitute: Surely, you’ve heard of spiralized zucchini, but have you tried giving rutabaga the same treatment? Spiralized rutabaga noodles offer a low-carb, gluten-free, keto-friendly alternative to white flour pasta.
Fondue: Rutabaga is a prime candidate for dipping into various creamy spreads and cheese, but it can become the dip itself with a touch of creativity- And nutritional yeast. Rutabaga fondue can make an unbeatable plate of nachos and pasta sauce, too.
Tacos: Eat with the seasons even on taco night. Root vegetable tacos with sunflower seed queso are a hearty, warming meal for autumn and winter when fresh tomatoes and corn are still months away.
Contributed by Hannah Kaminsky: Hannah has developed an international following for her delicious recipes and mouthwatering food photography at the award-winning blog BitterSweet. Passionate about big flavors and simple techniques, she’s the author of Vegan Desserts, Vegan à la Mode, Easy as Vegan Pie, Real Food, Really Fast, Sweet Vegan Treats, The Student Vegan Cookbook, Super Vegan Scoops, and The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet Pan. Visit Hannah at BittersweetBlog.com.
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