Give Swede a Chance
With its stout dirt-encrusted root, the stalwart swede is sometimes unjustly dismissed as cattle fodder. Admittedly, it lacks the stylishness of peppers and aubergines, say, and the sulphurous flavour may be a bit crude for some. But on the plus side, farmers and market gardeners appreciate swedes for their hardiness and the fact that they survive in the ground until needed. During the winter you’ll usually find freshly dug specimens in farm shops or traditional greengrocers, and they’re worth buying just for their freshness. They actually smell of something – beautifully clean and earthy with a sinus-pricking whiff of horseradish. Even better, fresh swedes keep for at least a week in in a cool larder or in a paper bag in the salad drawer of the fridge.
The swede certainly offers the creative cook interesting possibilities. The usual way is to boil them and mash with butter and nutmeg. This is nice enough but a bit namby-pamby for such a robust vegetable. I prefer roasted swede – the sugars caramelize and the flavour intensifies, producing golden nuggets that are absolute bliss alongside a juicy joint of beef, or strewed with roasted onion as a vegetarian/vegan main course. Peel 2–3 medium-sized swedes, quarter and cut into wedges, then boil in salted water for 5 minutes. Drain and toss with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread out on a roomy roasting tray and roast at 190°C/gas 5 for 40–45 minutes, turning the wedges and rotating the tray every 15 minutes, until golden and beginning to blacken round the edges. The wedges will be pleasantly chewy on the outside, and velvety soft within.
For a spicier option, check out my recipe for Roasted Swede, Ginger and Spiced Black Bean Soup. Wedges of swede and onion are tossed in olive oil with an aromatic mix of spices and ginger, then roasted briefly until golden and just tender. The mix is whizzed to a chunky purée then simmered gently with black beans and stock. The result is a super-fortifying soup that will keep you replenished for hours to come.
For a spectacular main meal salad, try grilled swede: toss very thin slices in olive oil and sea salt, and cook on a ridged stove-top grill pan or in a ridged frying pan. Once appetisingly striped with brown, arrange the slices on a springy mound of rocket and anoint with a creamy dressing, spiked with a little horseradish. Add some flaked smoked mackerel fillets if you like; the combination of swede, peppery leaves, smoked fish and a pungent dressing is a good one.
Provided it is not too fibrous, swede can also be eaten raw. Coarsely grated, it adds pep and colour to a winter root vegetable salad. Mix with grated celeriac and carrot, finely chopped red onion, and toss with lots of parsley or chives and anoint with a mustardy vinaigrette.
Swede may not be the most stylish root in your veg box, but it has great culinary promise. Do give it a chance.
© Christine McFadden, January 2022