Why stop at parsnips and potatoes? All kinds of delicious roots and tubers are just crying out for our attention. Mark Hix sets to work

WE COULD all do with getting back in touch with our roots. Not by tracing the family tree, of course, but by discovering new ways to cook root vegetables and their often odd-shaped relatives, the tubers. All right then, put like that they do sound like some families I know.

We could all do with getting back in touch with our roots. Not by tracing the family tree, of course, but by discovering new ways to cook root vegetables and their often odd-shaped relatives, the tubers. All right then, put like that they do sound like some families I know.

Although we don't usually make much distinction between the two branches of the family, the likes of carrots and turnips, celeriac and beetroot are the single roots of vegetable leaves. Tubers are a swollen root that grows off the main root. These include potatoes. It's obvious if you've ever dug up new potatoes and discovered the little nuggets hanging off the straggling root, but not if you only ever see your spuds already in a plastic bag. Others, like Jerusalem artichokes, cassava, yam and sweet potatoes, are interesting, not just for being tubers but because of their comparatively unknown, unusual and delicious tastes.

The way to bring out the best in roots is to roast them, and this method is becoming more commonplace. So it should be, considering it's so easy, and preferable to boiling, giving the roots a great new flavour. When you roast a root vegetable or tuber its sugar content concentrates during cooking and stays in the veg, adding flavour, whereas when you boil veg a lot of the taste is lost in the water. Compare a carrot that has been cut into chunks and roasted with the joint of meat or in some olive oil with sprigs of thyme to a boiled one and you'll become a convert.

In Asian and ethnic stores you see weird-looking vegetables piled high. I used to wonder what the hell to do with some of those hairy, obscure veggies. But in fact they can be treated like our native roots and tubers: mashed, roasted, braised with meats and fish or prepared as a vegetarian stew with some spices. Try roasting a sweet potato instead of the usual baking spud, or mashing sweet potato instead of King Edwards to go with grilled or roast fish.

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