In my local supermarket I overheard two women peering at something in the vegetable aisle. ‘What’s that bundle of old sticks?’, asked one. Her friend shook her head and they walked on. Curious, I took a look at the object in question. It was salsify!
A popular winter vegetable with the Victorians, it seems to have fallen out of favour completely. Few people know what it is, let alone what to do with it!
Granted, it doesn’t look very appealing, but I bought some (the girl on the checkout asked me what it was too!) to try on friends. Opinion was divided; not everyone liked the taste, which faintly resembles that of oyster. In fact it’s sometimes called the vegetable oyster or oyster plant.
A member of the sunflower family, the root, leaves and purple flowers of the plant can all be eaten. Don’t be put off by the appearance. The root is similar to a long thin (very dirty!) parsnip, but underneath, the flesh is pearly white. I think it’s very tasty – the flavour is best described as a cross between artichoke and celeriac.
What to do with it? Well it’s easy to prepare and cook. Cut off the root end and peel off the outer skin and coating. Put freshly peeled salsify into a solution of water and lemon juice to stop it browning. It can be cubed and added to soups and stews; I boiled my salsify and mashed it like parsnips, with a little cream, butter, salt and pepper. Some chefs cook the vegetable in a mixture of milk and water for a richer flavour. Don’t overcook it though or you could end up with a stringy mush. Salsify can also be roasted with a drizzle of oil and perhaps some chopped herbs and garlic. Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book also has a very good recipe for salsify fritters.
I think it’s a shame that this tasty winter vegetable is so underused. I’ve never even come across it in restaurants.
If you’ve tried it, let us know what you think. Any great ideas for salsify recipes?