If kale and brussels sprouts can have their moment, why not rutabaga?
In times of war or famine vigorous and dependable field and livestock food such as rutabaga was often the only food available. During World War l the Germans even coined the term rutabaga winter (steckrubenwinter) to describe the food that endured when all other crops failed. Generations later and a continent away poor rutabaga is still a culturally maligned vegetable for no currently apparent reason by folks who have never lived through famine or war.
Rutabaga is not at all sexy. Yet its slightly bitter yet sweet earthy flavor makes a comfortingly enticing vegetable soup, particularly when the rutabaga is roasted to intensify the sweetness and a variety of spices and herbs as well as other root vegetables are added to the mix.
The homely smallish rutabagas I recently spied at the farmers market flooded me with memories of my mom’s New England pureed rutabaga. She boiled, mashed, strained then mixed the rutabaga with salt, pepper and plenty of butter. I looked forward to her Thanksgiving pureed rutabaga along with the vats of mashed potatoes she made.
There is slight controversy whether rutabaga is a turnip or not – it’s not, even though it’s commonly called a yellow turnip. Rutabagas are actually a cross between cabbage and turnip so the similarity is not misplaced. Turnips have a noticeably sharper and more bitter taste than their more mild mannered cousins.
The diminutive and sweet farmers market rutabagas were the latest targets of my recent personal quest to make vegan inspired soups that are both rich in flavor and satisfying in texture. The basic method I’ve learned it to make a complementary vegetable broth to intensify and spotlight the flavors of the vegetable being profiled. Traditional flavor crutches like chicken stock, butter and cream can actually muddy and mask the flavor of milder vegetables. By leaving these out, the vegetable essence can shine.
Rutabaga is a bit tricky in a soup or broth because the broth can take on a pronounced mustardy taste. By adding the rutabaga skins and only a bit of chopped rutabaga along with many other complementary vegetables, the broth provides a complex background for the soup. I shy away from commercial vegetable broths and use water if I don’t make my own. (If there’s a great commercial vegetable broth out there, I’m open to trying it!)
If the rutabaga has wax on it, don’t use the skin and substitute an equal amount of chopped rutabaga in the recipe. Typically supermarket rutabaga’s have wax on them. Farmers market rutabaga’s don’t…yet another reason to support local farmers markets.
One of my favorite non-dairy, gluten-free thickeners is nutty Anson Mills rice grits which cooks down in the soup and flavors and thickens it when pureed. Long grain rice such as basmati also has the same effect.
Roasted Rutabaga Soup with Carrots, Leek and Potatoes is visually a bit of a plain Jane – I prefer to call it rustic and homey to more authentically pay homage to the rutabaga’s humble identity. To dress-up the soup for company, add thinly sliced scallions, diced chives, chopped parsley, or even sautéed rutabaga greens if you have them. I added arugula flowers for their bite. Arugula self seeds throughout my yard and blooms in in the late winter, but I understand not everyone has this in their garden.
Roasted Rutabaga Soup with Carrots, Leeks and Potatoes
Serves 6 (6 Weight Watchers points per serving)
3 Tbs olive oil
1 ½ lbs rutabaga, peeled, cut into ½“ dice (about 4 cups)
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3” piece fresh rosemary
¾ cup diced leeks
1/3 cup medium chop celery
2 ½ cups medium chop carrots
1 ½ cup medium chop russet baking potato
½ tsp kosher salt, divided in half.
¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp minced garlic (or 2 Tbs minced green garlic if you can find it at your farmers market)
¾ cup dry white wine (my favorite is Sauvignon Blanc)
½ cup parsley leaves
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs basmati rice or rice grits
8 cups roasted vegetable stock or water (see recipe below)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Mix rutabaga, thyme, rosemary, ¼ tsp salt, black pepper, and 2 Tbs oil on lightly oiled sheet pan. Roast until rutabaga is softened and browned, about 30 minutes. Remove thyme sprigs and discard.
- While rutabaga is roasting heat 1 Tbs olive oil over medium heat in large saucepan. Add leeks, celery, carrots, potato, ¼ tsp salt and sauté until vegetables are softened but not browned; about 7-9 minutes.
- Add garlic and sauté briefly until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add white wine and cook until reduced by half.
- Add parsley, bay leaf, rice, vegetable stock and roasted rutabaga. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until all vegetable are softened, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove bay leaf and discard.
- Cool to room temperature. Puree in blender until just smooth without over mixing. Add salt and pepper if needed for flavor and water if needed for texture.
- If desired garnish with chopped parsley, sliced scallions, minced chives, sautéed rutabaga greens, or edible flowers.
Roasted Vegetable Broth
2 Tbs olive oil
½ cup chopped rutabaga and/or peels from peeling rutabaga for soup.
2 Tbs chopped garlic cloves (if using green garlic, add 3 Tbs diced green garlic)
½ cup chopped carrots
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped onions
¾ cup chopped leeks
½ cup chopped russet baking potatoes
4 sprigs fresh thyme
6” piece fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh parsley
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp whole black peppercorns
1 dried bay leaf
½ tsp whole coriander seed
½ tsp whole mustard seeds
1 Tbs sherry vinegar
8 cups water
- With hands mix all broth ingredients except water together and place on a lightly oiled roasting pan
- Roast for 30 minutes, mixing after 15 minutes.
- Remove from oven and add to large pot with water.
- Over high heat, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
- Remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer – pushing on solids with spoon to extract as much flavor as possible.