Sweet potato? Yawn. Turnips? Snooze. This fall, local restaurants are embracing lesser-known species of root vegetables that are now coming into season. These atypical subterranean edibles are not only packed with nutrients and minerals, but they also bring a depth of flavor.
One of them, salsify, is a fiber-rich root that looks like a carrot that went on a
Caribbean cruise. Some compare the subtly sweet taste of the brown vegetable to raw oysters (hence the nickname “oyster root”).
At Table (903 N St. NW; 202-588-5200, tabledc.com), you can sample the veg with wild-caught salmon, borscht sauce and beets ($29). The root is prepared two ways for the dish: sliced into ribbons and quickly blanched and also mixed with egg yolks to form a custard, which is then stuffed into savoy cabbage. “It’s definitely on the sweeter side,” says chef de cuisine Patrick Robinson.
At Dupont Circle’s Urbana (2121 P St. NW; 202-956-6650, urbanadc.com), chef Ethan McKee pairs caramelized salsify with handmade tagliatelle and braised lamb shank ($14).
“It adds texture and that certain flavor,” McKee says of the salsify. “You’re like, ‘What is that?!’ ”
Sunchokes are another vegetable worth rooting for this fall. The edible tubers of a sunflower, sunchokes promote intestinal health and look like the twin sister of ginger, though the taste is a cross between a parsnip and a potato. Teddy and the Bully Bar (1200 19th St. NW; 202-872-8700, teddyandthebullybar.com) uses the root in two ways for its herb-crusted flounder dish — pickled as well as blended into a creamy puree with a touch of milk and water ($15).
“Sunchokes are mellow and have a buttery flavor,” says sous chef Lucas Blonde. “They aren’t going to overpower that dish.”
Blonde explains why sunchokes aren’t on most menus: They’re relatively teeny, and preparing them is labor-intensive (they brown quickly because of oxidation and have to be cooked soon after they’re peeled).
Burdock root is a root vegetable common throughout Asia, which chef Yesoon Lee of Mandu (453 K St. NW, 202-289-6899; 1805 18th St. NW, 202-588-1540; mandudc.com) grew up eating. It’s not surprising, then, to see the slender brown vegetable make an appearance in the restaurant’s gimbap (seaweed rice rolls) available on the brunch platter ($13).
The calcium-loaded veggie is simmered in soy sauce, oil, sugar and Mandu’s special sauce, which makes the woody, fibrous vegetable soft and palatable. Like sunchokes, burdock root graces few menus: “It’s a time-consuming job,” Lee says of the prep work. “Korean moms hate making it.”
Fat and hairy, the malanga is a traditional South American potato packed with potassium that looks like an oblong coconut. Fritters made from the root, fried in lard, are a traditional Cuban street food.
Cuba Libre (801 Ninth St. NW, Suite A; 202-408-1600, cubalibrerestaurant.com) serves a version of the snack made with cilantro, water, eggs and pureed garlic, fried in soybean oil and served with a spicy-sweet tamarind-infused ketchup ($5.75). The restaurant also serves malanga chips — sliced fine and still showing the root’s sporadic purple fibers — with a trio of dips ($9).
“[Malanga] has a natural sweetness to it that I really like,” says executive chef Matt Zagorski. Though malanga is not particularly hard to source, Zagorski still encounters confused suppliers.
“Sometimes when I order it [for the restaurant], the guy I’m ordering it from will go, ‘What is that?’ ”