rutabagaAh, the rutabaga (or swede in the U.K.). They’re ugly. They’re hard to cut into. They’re hard to peel. Most people don’t have a clue what they are. So why bother? Because cooked properly, this ugly vegetable can be really delicious.

I was first introduced to this vegetable as a young girl. My mother was raised in a rural area that had the right type of soil for growing all kinds of root vegetables. In addition to growing carrots and potatoes, most of the local farmers also grew rutabaga.

Every Sunday, my mother served an old fashioned dinner complete with a roast beef or chicken, all kinds of veggies and salad, and always, there would be mashed rutabaga in a small bowl next to the mashed potatoes. My father would mix his mashed rutabaga with the mashed potatoes, while my mother would eat them separately. This was the only way I had ever heard of using rutabaga.

As a young adult, I one day decided to replicate one of my mother’s Sunday dinners. Yikes! First, the rutabaga was hard to find in the local grocery store, and they were enormous. Then, of course, the checkout clerk had no idea what the thing was (and that’s still true for most clerks today). Then, when I got home, I discovered just how very hard it was to cut open. I ended up using a cleaver, and sort of pounding up and down on a cutting board until it finally split in half. While it was tasty, all of the effort put me off rutabagas for years.

Then, about five years ago, I had some marvelous chicken vegetable soup in a restaurant. It had big chunks of chicken, and chunks of wonderful vegetables. But the tastiest vegetable, and the one that really made the soup, was this orangish, almost sweet tasting veggie. I finally asked the waiter what it was. He didn’t know, and checked with the chef, who informed him that it was a rutabaga! What a revelation. I could use rutabagas in more ways than mashed, with mashed potatoes.

Since then, I’ve been cooking them on a fairly regular basis, in a variety of ways. I discovered that they’re marvelous raw with veggie dip. They’re also very tasty when roasted with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. But my very favorite ways to use them are as additions to soups and stews. I pretty much add chunks of rutabaga to any type of soup I make (vegetable, chicken, even bean).

I have learned to avoid buying the very large ones. I generally go for ones that aren’t a whole lot larger than a softball. They’re much easier to cut into pieces. I recently learned that they’re part of the turnip family, which was a big shock to me, because I’ve never cooked a turnip. Now I’m thinking I should probably give turnips a try as well.

Do you ever make rutabaga? If so, what are some of your favorite recipes?