Parsnips may seem like an exotic vegetable that is unfamiliar to many, but what they have to offer your diet is twofold: Their fiber content will make you feel full and their sweet taste will help alleviate hunger pangs, allowing you to faithfully stick to your true course toward weight-loss.
Parsnips look like white-yellow carrots, and they boast a delightful flavor sweeter than carrots. In medieval times they had a reputation as an aphrodisiac.
Parsnips shine as a fiber source. They're high in soluble fiber, the type that helps lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar on an even keel. They're a surprising source of folic acid, that B vitamin women planning a family need to help reduce the risk of certain disabling birth defects. Folic acid also plays a role in reducing heart disease and may help prevent dementia and osteoporosis bone fractures. And potassium, an aid to blood pressure, is present in ample quantities. Unlike their carrot cousins, however, parsnips lack beta-carotene.
Selection and Storage
Parsnips are root vegetables that are creamy yellow on the outside and white on the inside. They're available year-round in some markets but are easier to find in winter and early spring. The later parsnips are harvested, the sweeter they will taste, as the extra time and a frost help turn the starch into sugar.
Choose small- to medium-size parsnips; they'll be less fibrous and more tender. They shouldn't be "hairy" with rootlets or have obvious blemishes. The skin should be fairly smooth and firm, not shriveled. If the greens are still attached, they should look fresh. Before refrigerating, clip off any attached greens, so they won't drain moisture from the root. Parsnips stored in your crisper drawer in a loosely closed plastic bag will keep for a couple of weeks.
Preparation and Serving Tips
Scrub parsnips well before using. Trim both ends. As with carrots, cut 1/4- to 1/2-inch off the top (the greens end) to avoid pesticide residues. Scrape or peel a thin layer of skin before or after cooking. If you do it after, they'll be sweeter and full of more nutrients.
Small, tender parsnips can be grated into salads, but most people prefer them cooked. To cook large parsnips, cut them in quarters lengthwise and remove the fibrous core; you can skip this step if the parsnips are small, about 5 to 7 inches in length and not too fat. Cut into evenly sized pieces and steam until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.
The most flavorful way to enjoy parsnips is to roast them in the oven. Cut into 3- inch-by-1/2 -inch sticks, toss with a little olive oil, and place in a single layer on a baking sheet (add carrots for extra color and nutrients!). Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, turning once, until tender, about 20 to 40 minutes depending on thickness. They'll come out fragrant and sweet.
Some people like to substitute parsnips for potatoes. Serve them whole, cut up or pureed like mashed potatoes. If you puree, resist the urge to top with melted butter. Instead, try a dollop of nonfat, plain yogurt or a drizzle of olive oil. For savory flavor, basil, parsley, thyme, and tarragon complement parsnips. If you're looking to bring out their sweetness, try ginger and nutmeg.
Parsnips are great in soups and stews. Add them near the end of cooking time so they do not become mushy. Parsnips can also be used to make a flavorful stock, or pureed for a tasty soup thickener.
Note: Peeled or cut parsnips will turn brown quickly, so either cook them right away or hold in a bowl of water with a bit of lemon juice added, then drain and cook.
Parsnips, with their dual advantage of high fiber content and flavorful taste, will make a wonderful addition to your culinary repertoire and help your weight-loss routine.
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