Knobby, bulbous, and irregularly shaped, root vegetables might not be the darlings of Instagram following all that photogenic summer produce, but that shouldn’t stop you from sinking your teeth into these versatile veggies.
The root vegetable category encompasses everything from carrots and beets to radishes and ginger. Those are some of the prettier ones. I set out to see what Ottawa chefs are doing with three decidedly less eye-catching varieties: celery root, sunchokes, and turnips.
Not one to pick her produce on the basis of colour, chef Marysol Foucault, owner of Edgar in Gatineau, says she understands why people might be less inclined to work with celery root if they are unfamiliar with it. It’s brown and it looks kind of like a brain. But look past its gnarly exterior, and you’ll see that it offers a great combination of flavours: it is reminiscent of celery but is more workable. Foucault calls it a “tastier potato.”
To show off celery root, she made a celery root brown butter pavé with a celery and celery root cream, topped with crispy chicken skins. (A pavé is basically any dish in a rectangular shape — in this case, it’s like a gratin.)
Known by many as the queen of brunch, Foucault has included the components of this celery root dish on her brunch menus, and you might see the full dish at her restaurant this season.
At town. on Elgin Street, chef Marc Doiron makes sunchokes the star in his dish Sunchokes Four Ways. Diners often pause to ask exactly what sunchokes are. Known also as Jerusalem artichokes, they are the tuber of a sunflower plant. Slightly nutty and tasting a bit like a cross between potatoes and artichokes, raw sunchokes offer a nice crunch but are soft and creamy when cooked. They tend to be a common ingredient on locavore menus once autumn arrives and are easily found in most produce sections.
With sunchokes pickled, raw, roasted, and fried, the name of the dish is self-explanatory. The medley of sunchokes is set atop a vibrant chermoula sauce (think Moroccan salsa verde) and garnished with preserved lemon. Right off the bat, that’s four easy ways to enjoy sunchokes. They also appear in town.’s vegetarian version of a Caesar salad as the substitute for bacon. While it might take a bit of prep to enjoy the vegetable all four ways at home, each component is delicious on its own.
According to food historians, the turnip is one of the oldest cultivated vegetables. Also known as rutabaga, it is a vegetable that Ottawans are already very familiar with as that brightly pink pickled ingredient in shawarma. Like most root vegetables, turnips are most often roasted, mashed, or puréed in soup, but it’s the crunchy, zingy, pickled version I like best. (It might also have something to do with the bright pink colour!)
Hussein Ibrahim has been selling shawarmas at his restaurant, Mediterranean Style, on Bank Street for the past 17 years. He chalks the popularity of the shawarma up to a few things: the price is right, the ingredients are fresh (“never frozen”), and everything is made right in front of diners. While customers may have been wary of the “pink stuff” before shawarma was commonplace in the capital, Ibrahim now has regulars who request “turnip sandwiches.”
Like everything else in Ibrahim’s restaurant, the pickled turnips are made in-house. The bright colour of the turnips comes from mingling with beets during the pickling process. Ibrahim follows a traditional recipe for his pickling brine and emphasizes that good-quality fresh garlic is essential, along with a pinch of cayenne pepper. Though these pickles are probably most popular throughout Middle Eastern cuisine, don’t limit their use to shawarma or falafel — use as you would any other pickle in sandwiches, in salads, and on charcuterie boards.
From French Canadian to modern Italian and Middle Eastern, root vegetables are humbly but firmly planted in diverse cuisines across the world and here in the capital as well. Why not let them take root in your kitchen this fall?
Sunchokes Four Ways
Pickled, roasted, raw & chips with preserved lemon and chermoula
— Marc Doiron, town.
Jerusalem artichokes, also know as sunchokes, are a starchy tubers similar to potatoes and/or turnips. When roasted, the skin becomes flaky and the flesh becomes tender, but the taste of a sunchoke is slightly nutty and sweet. Cooked sunchokes are best when eaten within 2 days. When raw, they store well in the fridge. This recipe is good served in individual bowls, or on a large platter and can be a great first course or as a side dish to a grilled steak.
Elements of dish:
*Note: best to do the pickled portion the day before to get a full pickled flavour. The other elements can be done the day of, right before assembling and serving.
1 large, firm sunchoke
¼ cup champagne vinager
⅛ cup sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
⅛ cup white wine
Method: Wash 1 large sunchoke and cut into 1/16 inch diameter batonettes (or thin sticks). Put into a small mason jar or heat proof sealable container. In a small pot, bring champagne vinegar, sugar, kosher salt and white wine to simmer until sugar and salt is dissolved. Pour mixture over batonettes in container and seal tightly while still hot. Let refrigerate overnight.
6 large, firm sunchokes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon melted butter
olive oil to coat
Kosher salt to season
canola oil for deep frying
Method: Pre-heat oven to 375℉. Wash the sunchokes and toss lightly in olive oil to coat, then spread on a baking sheet. Season lightly with Kosher salt and roast for about 20 min. or until easily pierced with knife. Remove from oven and let cool completely.
Once cooled, slice into 1 inch thick coins. Heat up canola oil in pot or deep fryer to 350℉. Add coins and fry until golden brown. Remove carefully from oil with spider or slotted spoon and lay out on paper towel to remove excess oil. Put in small bowl and dress with lemon juice and melted butter. Keep warm until assembling dish.
2 large, firm sunchokes
Kosher salt to season
canola oil for deep frying
Method: Wash 2 large sunchokes. Using a mandolin on the smallest setting or a very sharp knife, slice sunchokes into very thin rounds. Soak in ice water for ½ hr to remove some of the starch (will make chips crispier). Heat up canola oil in pot or deep fryer to 210℉. Add chips and fry until lightly golden. Remove carefully from oil with spider or slotted spoon and lay out on paper towel to remove excess oil. Season with Kosher salt and set aside until assembling dish.
2 large, firm sunchokes
Method: Wash 2 large sunchokes. Using a mandolin on the smallest setting or a very sharp knife, slice sunchokes into very thin rounds. Soak in ice water to keep crisp until plating dish.
2 cups flat leaf parsley
2 cups basil
4 cloves rasped/grated garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 minced shallot
1 tablespoon minced bread and butter pickles
1 tablespoon minced capers
zest of 4 lemons
juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespon red wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil to cover
Method: Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined. Put in a sealable container and cover with ½ cup olive oil. It can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Assembling the dish:
minced preserved lemons (can be purchased at a speciality grocery store or you can make your own)
You can use either a large platter or individual bowls depending on if you are serving as a side dish or as a first course. Lay down a good layer of the chermoula. Start with roasted sunchokes at the bottom, then layer on the pickled batonettes, raw rounds and finally the chips on top. Toss the pea shoots in the lemon juice and minced preserved lemon and garnish on top for a bit of colour and added flavour.
Celery Root with pavé
— Marysol Foucault, Edgar
Preparation time : 1 hour
Cooking time : 2 hours 30 minutes
Serves: 4 as an appetizer
1 celery, heart removed and set aside
1 small onion
1 bunch of thyme
¼ cup canola oil
3 cups milk
1 cup 35% cream
2 large celery root
1 cup butter
1 cup chicken skin
⅓ cup slivered, roasted hazelnuts
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
freshly cracked pepper
In a small pot, melt the butter and simmer until it starts to brown. Remove from heat as soon as it has browned. Preheat oven to 350℉. On a parchment lined baking sheet, arrange the chicken skin as flat as possible, sprinkle with salt and roast until just crispy. Drain and save the fat. Set aside.
Line a pan loaf with parchment paper. Set aside.
Clean the celery root. Cut one in half and slice thinly on a mandolin, put the slices in a medium sized bowl.
Add the brown butter, season with salt and pepper, and mix with your hands.
Arrange the sliced celery root in a layer in the parchment lined loaf pan. Top with half the chicken skin. Pour over the brown butter and cover with a parchment and aluminum foil.
Cook for two hours at 300℉ or until tender and sides are dark brown. Let cool.
As the pavé cooks, chop the other celery root in large chunks — do the same with the onion, celery stalks and carrot. In a medium- to large-sized pot, on medium heat, cook the vegetables in canola oil until they start to brown. Add the cream and milk and simmer until the celery root is tender.
Drain the liquid and reserve.
With tongs, pick out the celery root and put in the bowl of a mixer with the reserved poaching liquid. Purée until very smooth. Set aside until serving.
To make the pavé topping: cut the celery heart in very thin strips, put in a small mixing bowl with the leftover chicken skin (re-crisp in oven if needed), hazelnut and mustard. As you are ready to serve, season with salt and pepper and coat with warm chicken fat.
At the bottom of the plate, place a generous spoonful of the celery root purée, top with pavé, and finish with the celery salad.
— Hussein Ibrahim, Mediterranean Style
This recipe for pickled turnips is based off of what Hussein Ibrahim makes in his restaurant, Mediterranean Style.
3 cups water
2 medium sized turnips (approximately 750 grams)
¼ cup coarse salt
1 cup white vinegar
1 small beet, cooked and peeled
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or chili flakes, or 1 small red pepper thinly sliced
Slice the turnips and the beet into thin sticks and place them in a large clean jar along with the sliced garlic and chilli flakes.
Combine water, salt and vinegar in a saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally until salt has dissolved.
Remove the pickling liquid from the stove and pour into the jar. Let cool before sealing and refrigerating.
Let the turnips pickle for at least a week before serving (two weeks to guarantee the pinkest colour). They can be kept in the refrigerator for five to seven weeks.