A Risky RootIn a recent episode of MasterChef Australia, an exotic and little known root vegetable called salsify appeared in the 'Risky Box' challenge. When the contestants lifted the covers from their boxes, they were baffled. Gary went on to explain that salsify is a root vegetable that oxidises very quickly, like the browning of apples when they’ve been exposed to oxygen for an extended period of time. Since its starring spot on the show, it’s got all the foodies talking.
The LowdownOften known as the “oyster plant” or “oyster vegetable,” salsify is known to taste like molluscs found in the ocean. Native to the Eastern Mediterranean parts of the world, it was first cultivated widely in France and Italy in the 16th century, and later in England in the 18th Century. However, the English grew the plant for its beautiful purple flowers rather than its ability to fill tummies.
Ugly but LovelySalsify, although perhaps not the prettiest of vegetables (dubbed “the poor man’s asparagus” and “parsnips’ ugly cousin”), is mild, sweet and earthy in flavour.
Green GuideSalsify are easy to grow at home – just like carrots and parsnips, they’re fairly slow growing, but can be grown with veg such as beans, leeks, and spinach. It’s best to sow the seeds in the last couple of weeks in spring, and have the roots harvested in late autumn or early winter. Shop for your Crop If you’re not the green-fingered type and prefer to buy the root veggies, choose medium sized, firm salsifies that don’t have any damp spots.
Care Label As previously mentioned, salsify oxidises rather quickly, so it’s best to soak it in water mixed with a little lemon juice or vinegar. Alternatively, you can boil the roots for 15 minutes before peeling - just bear in mind that they can temporarily stain your hands. Salsify is best served fresh, but can be stored unwashed for several days in a perforated plastic bag.
Salsify Satisfy Salsify is delicious in stews, soups or in a gratin. They go well with their fellow root veggies – onions, carrots, celeriac, parsnips, potatoes and leek. For a more indulgent meal, try glazing it and pairing with veal or poultry.