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updated: 9/25/2013 6:26 AM

Soupalooza: Learning to root for roots

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  • Once you look past their appearance, you'll love root vegetables in this soup.

      Once you look past their appearance, you'll love root vegetables in this soup.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer


The root of the matter, if you will pardon the pun, is that I know very little about root vegetables.

Oh, sure, I know carrots, potatoes and beets, but celery root? No idea. Salsify? Not a clue. On a recent trip to the grocery store, I even mixed up turnips and parsnips. I wouldn't know a rutabaga if you conked me on the head with it.

Maybe it's just me, but roots look scary, more than a little intimidating and not worth the trouble. Oddly, my vegetable-pushing mother never made me eat them as a child so I don't even have that to go on.

So when I decided to make Rachael Ray's roasted root vegetable soup, I figured it was time to educate myself on these gnarly looking things.

(You might ask why in the world I decided to make a soup using ingredients that weren't even vaguely appealing to me. The answer to that question can be found in three simple words: Grilled Cheese Croutons! I figured any soup that includes mini-grilled cheese sandwiches as a garnish was worth the effort of learning about roots.)

In any case, I went to Wikipedia and here's what I found on root vegetables.

"Botany distinguishes true roots such as tuberous roots and taproots from non-roots such as tubers, rhizomes, corms, and bulbs, though some contain both taproot and hypocotyl tissue, making it difficult to tell some types apart. In ordinary, agricultural and culinary use, 'root vegetable' can apply to all these types."

You can understand my confusion. For the sake of simplicity, I think it's safe to say they are underground plant parts that are used as vegetables, but they might come from different vegetable families. Got it?

Basically, for this soup, you need to learn about turnips and celery root, also known as celeriac. Celery root looks like it is part miniature coconut, part hairball and part shrunken head. No I am not exaggerating! Oddly, however, it has a very delicate celery taste. You can grate it and then saute it, use it in soups or eat it raw. It's really quite divine, I discovered.

Parsnips, on the other hand, look like pale, anemic carrots. Yet they are naturally sweet and can be used in soups and stews. They are particularly tasty when roasted.

Once you get started on a root vegetable roll, you'll see past their pitiful appearance and realize they are much more tasty than they look. And then, of course, there are the grilled cheese croutons, one of the best soup garnishes I have ever come across.

The combination of the roasted sweetness of the vegetables -- with a little kick of hot sauce -- and the cheesy goodness of the croutons, turned this into an instant favorite. Who knows? Now that I'm root booster, I may even give rutabagas a try.

M. Eileen Brown is the Daily Herald's director of strategic marketing and innovation, and an incurable soup-a-holic. She specializes in vegetarian soups and blogs at

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