Winter is the best time of year to eat rutabaga—but why, you might ask, would you want to? Startlingly large and sort of dumpy-looking, with a purple top and beige bottom, rutabagas may not look very alluring, but there’s a lot more to this winter vegetable than meets the eye.
Underneath its woody-looking exterior, rutabaga’s butter-yellow flesh is sweet and earthy. Rutabagas are the result of some promiscuous turnips crossing with wild cabbages in the 1600s, and while they contain the genes of both veggies, they’re considered a part of the cruciferous family of vegetables (cousins include broccoli and Brussels sprouts) and pack similar health benefits.
Rutabagas contain phytochemicals, such as sulforaphane, that help the liver remove carcinogens and other toxins from the body, as well as cancer-fighting antioxidants—1 cup of rutabaga contains 50 percent of the daily value of vitamin C. They’re also rich in beta-carotene, potassium, and a good source of fiber, thiamin, and manganese. Low in calories and nutrient-dense, rutabagas can be a particularly useful ingredient if you are trying to lose weight.
If you’ve never cooked with it before, the first thing you need to know is that rutabagas from the grocery store are usually sold coated in paraffin wax to keep them from drying out in storage. You’ll definitely want to remove it before cooking with them. Peeling a waxed rutabaga can feel like trying to peel a greased bowling ball, so to make it easier, first slice off the stem and root ends with a chef’s knife to create a stable base.