Sunday, February 8, 2009

Glazed Rutabagas: Why Look Any Further?

If you are not sure what rutabagas are, think very large, yellow turnips. Rutabagas are actually not turnips but they are from the same plant family and in other cultures people call a rutabaga a yellow turnip, so I try to avoid discussions about their differences and similarities.  When I say very large, think slow-pitch softball coated with wax, which is how they are shipped by the big growers to keep them from wilting. In Michigan, where I live, these big-boys are shipped in from Canada and that's also what I grew up with in Tennessee. More recently I have found locally grown organic rutabagas, either my own home grown or from a local farmer, to be more appealing.  

Rutabagas and I have had a long relationship. As a child my family always had mashed rutabagas as one of our traditional Thanksgiving dishes, perhaps stemming from the Canadian roots of my grandparents on my father's side.  I continued this tradition with my own children and even now, with my oldest in his 32nd year, we continue enjoy them with our annual feast. In the spirit of full disclosure, I think it only fair to mention that rutabagas after World War I have been grown in large part as winter feed for cattle because many europeans had nothing to eat but rutabaga during part of the war and they became thought of as famine food.  However, they are eaten by many cultures, especially those with Scandinavian historical ties. Rutabaga as common food seems to have escaped the standard American cuisine, even though they are a great food and good alternative to those little white turnips. They store well, are tasty and are packed with vitamins. It is evident to me that most people in the US don't have a clue how to prepare a rutabaga. Years ago we sent one with my older son to his daycare when everyone was supposed to bring an ingredient to include in a Thanksgiving stew; you guessed it, I got a call at work about half an hour after dropping Eric off with the question "What is this and what do I do with it?"

Cooking rutabagas is easy. They are typically peeled (to get rid of that wax and/or little hairy roots and adherent soil) then cut up and cooked. To make mashed, cube to about an inch, simmer until tender (about 15 or 20 minutes), then mash with added pepper and butter and a spoonful of mashed potatoes, if you have some at hand, to help keep the juices from separating from the pulp. You can find a lot of variations on this on the web that include carrots, parsnips, onions, etc., and some of these appear to be a traditional dish of one North Atlantic region or another. A smaller dice is used in preparing pasty filling (more on that to come in another posting). However, the ultimate rutabaga recipe, imho, is glazed rutabagas, which I have just come across this year. As a point of fact, what caught my attention was glazed turnips, which we tried at Thanksgiving. That was too much pealing for too little product. I modified the recipe to accommodate rutabagas and think the outcome is far superior. Both my wife, Diana, and I think these make a fantastic side dish and I encourage you to give them a try.

Glazed Rutabagas
This recipe is modified from one for glazed turnips that can be found at:

  1 large or a few smaller rutabagas (1.5 – 2 lbs)
  About 1 1/2 cups plus 3 tablespoons water
  2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
  1 tablespoon honey, brown sugar, or sugar
  1/2 teaspoon salt (if desired)

  Optional Garnish: chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Halve the rutabaga(s) then slice into ½ inch sections. Peel each slice, then cut into approximately 1-inch squares. Arrange rutabaga in 1 layer in a heavy skillet and add enough water (about 1 1/2 cups) to reach halfway up slices. Bring to a boil over moderately high heat and cook for about 15 min. Add olive oil, honey, and salt and continue boiling uncovered, stirring occasionally until tender and water has evaporated, about 8 minutes.
Continue to sauté over moderately high heat, stirring, until sugar starts to caramelize and rutabagas show golden brown on their downside and edges, about 5 minutes more. Add 3 tablespoons water and stir to coat rutabaga with glaze. Transfer to a covered baking dish. Add 1/2 cup water to the pan, bring to a boil and transfer liquid to covered dish to recover maximum glazing. Hold in a warm oven until ready to serve.  This is good eatin'.


  1. I love most vegetables, but not rutabagas. I do like them in pasties, though.

  2. I love rutabagas and I ate them often
    when growing up in Quebec,"la belle province".

  3. Thanks for the encouragement to eat this veggie. I'm going to give it a try!