We can’t believe that in 15 years of publishing THE NIBBLE, we’ve never published an article on salsify. Ironically, it is known as a “forgotten vegetable.”
WHAT IS SALSIFY?
Salsify, pronounced SAL-suh-fee OR SAL-suh-fie, is a root vegetable in the Asteraceae or dandelion family. Dandelions, daisies and lettuce are in the family, but belong to different genuses (they’re not root vegetables).
Other root vegetables belong to other families entirely:
Beetroot (Amaranthaceae); burdock/gobo (Asteraceae); carrot and celeriac/celery root (Apiaceae); (Apiaceae); daikon/white Japanese radish, black radish, horseradish, radish, rutabaga, turnip and wasabi (Brassicaceae); lotus root, parsley root and parsnip (Nelumbonaceae).
Not A Looker, But Delicious
These roots lack the grace of carrot or parsnip. White salsify is “hairy” and black salsify looks like a twig.
White Salsify. White salsify could be mistaken for a thin parsnip, but its flavor has been compared to an artichoke heart or Jerusalem artichoke (sunchoke). Because of its minerality, it has also earned the names oyster plant or vegetable oyster. Because of its purple flowers, some call it purple salsify.
Black Salsify. Its cousin, black salsify, has yellow flowers and the flavor of mild asparagus. It was first cultivated in Spain, and is also called Spanish salsify and false salsify.
The Value Of Root Vegetables
Root vegetables have long been important in the kitchen. After harvesting, they last a good while in the pantry without spoiling, and last even longer in the fridge. In older times, the root cellar kept a family fed through the winter.
Different roots have different flavor profiles. Radishes are pungent, carrots are sweet, beets are sweet and earthy. Parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and salsify have more subtle flavors.
Root vegetables are also rich in nutrients, low in fat and calories, inexpensive, and in modern times, usually available year-round.
HOW TO BUY & STORE SALSIFY
The roots have a rough outer skin, which requires scrubbing and, for many people, peeling. (It is fine to eat the skin.)
Buy firm roots, preferably with the green tops still on. You can refrigerate them in an airtight container, but use them within a week; the roots alone will last for two weeks.
To store, wrap the roots in plastic and refrigerate. Check periodically to see if the root is drying out. If it is, it’s time to cook them!
Before cooking, scrub the root under cold running water, peel with a vegetable peeler and immediately place into acidulated water, water with a bit of lemon juice or vinegar to prevent discoloration.
After you peel the root, you can cut it into matchsticks or thicker short lengths, or slice them into coins. Simmer for half an hour until soft, drain, and sauté in a bit of butter.
Top: black (right) and white salsify roots at The Chef’s Garden. Center: A bowl of salsify and celeriac soup. Here’s the recipe from InSimonesKitchen.com. Bottom: The leaves are usually removed before the root goes to market; but like beet, turnip and other root greens, they are tasty (photo courtesy Will Bonsall | MOFA.org.).