As usual for January in New York, I returned from my Greenmarket trip yesterday hauling no less than 10 pounds of root vegetables. Among them, a rutabaga almost the size of my cranium, a bunch of rainbow-hued carrots, little white turnips, big golden beets, and a bag of slender, creamy-hued parsnips. No matter how often I eat these starchy winter roots this time of year, I never tire of them; often I simply roast them in large batches on a couple of sheet pans until their natural sugars are concentrated and their edges caramelized. Then they're ready to eat throughout the week: solo, maybe seasoned with a spritz of lemon and a dash of tamari, and added to soups, stews, and salads. They make a fantastic addition to a winter Buddha bowl, too.
This week I got into reading a couple of my Ayurvedic cookbooks, which recommend liquid-based cooking rather than dry-roasting for most vegetables, especially starchy ones like roots and winter squash. The logic is that roasting increases the drying energy of these foods, and in winter, a cold, dry, and windy season, this is not exactly what our bodies, already struggling to hold onto moisture, really need. So, with a home-brewed humidifier already steaming on the stovetop (our apartment has been so dry lately, and this has helped a lot -- and smells amazing; I've included a pic of the brew below), it made sense to let the oven rest and give the parsnips a quick braise.
First I toasted cumin seeds and ground coriander in homemade ghee until the spices were fragrant, then added the peeled and chopped parsnips, cooking them until they began to caramelize around the edges. I added a little water, so the parsnips were about half-submerged, covered the pot, and simmered the mixture for about 10 minutes, until the parsnips were fork-tender. Done.
Braising made the parsnips ultra-tender and seemed to bring out their sweetness even more than roasting. The toasty, buttery richness of the ghee and brightness of the cumin and coriander were perfect complements to the sweet, earthy roots. This could be a fast, simple, and flavor-packed side dish alongside braised, grilled, or roasted meats; or add greens, beans, and a grain for a complete plant-based meal.
Choose smaller, thinner parsnips at the market, if possible; they are sweeter and more tender than larger specimens. If you don't have ghee on hand, sweet butter, coconut oil, or olive oil can be substituted, although they will not impart quite the same richness and depth of flavor. Also try using carrots, turnips, rutabaga, sweet potato, or kabocha squash in place of the parsnips.
1-2 tablespoons ghee
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 pound parsnips, peeled and roll cut (or diced into 3/4-inch pieces), about 2 cups
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a 2- to 3- quart saucepan melt ghee over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and coriander and toast the spices, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the parsnips, stirring to coat with ghee and spices, and season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook until the parsnips are golden around the edges, 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.
Add water until parsnips are about halfway submerged (about 1/2 cup). Stir, cover, and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until parsnips are tender when pierced with a fork, about 10 minutes. At this point most of the water should have evaporated. If the parsnips look too wet, cook uncovered for a few minutes to allow the liquid to evaporate.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.