The choice of local produce always seems to be quite limited in the winter months, yet if you allow the less familiar into your kitchen, you open your horizons. It is ironic really, now that out of season fruits and vegetables fly around the world year-round, our diet seems strangely restricted. Root vegetables often take a back seat to all the colourful imports we rely on to brighten our plates, but they provide good, solid nutrition at a fraction of the price of the hothouse fruits and vegetables that have more or less become staples in our diets.

Rutabaga, or swede, is an old school root vegetable that has fallen to way side, yet it is widely available in the winter months, nutritious and cheap. It is lovely roasted or baked, like a potato; is a delicious addition to vegetable soups; and it is surprisingly tasty raw. Its flavour is close to that of its sibling, the turnip, but is much less watery, since the pale yellow flesh is quite dense, much like a potato, without the starchiness. 

I have to admit that rutabagas usually get the same treatment in my kitchen, not only because I am a creature of habit, but because I have an 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' attitude towards old standards. I do often slip a few slivers of swedes in my old timer, the root slaw, but I  have often thought that the mustardy dressing was a bit too intense for the sulfurousness of rutabagas. Obviously, ideas were brewing at the back of my mind, since there are stellar flavour combinations that I occasionally bring out during festive times. 

In keeping with the seasons, rutabagas are best matched with the tartness of cranberries and the crisp, sweetness of apples. The results are always surprising, even confounding: when I first made this slaw, my sweetheart couldn't figure out what it was, despite being a detractor of rutabagas. Also, since swedes are virtually without fibres, and rather dry, they remain delightfully crunchy even after several days in the dressing, so they are perfect for making in advance.

Rutabaga Slaw
Serves 4, more than generously
1 medium rutabaga, about 400g/ 1lb
dried cranberries, a handful or two
2 medium apples
6 or so pieces crystalised ginger
1 lemon, zest and juice
3 Tbs oil, neutral or nutty
Salt and pepper

Using a very sharp knife, remove the rind of the swedes: all the stringiness is found in the thick peel, so even if you buy a gigantic root, peeling it will result in smooth flesh.
With the same sharp knife or a mandoline, shred the rutabaga as finely as possible.
Combine with the lemon juice and cranberries.
Shred the unpeeled apples, and mix into the salad.
Mix in the oil, and season.
If needed, add some vinegar drop by drop to cut back on the sweetness.
Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Any crunchy apple will do. However, I do have  a personal preference for the crisp-tart Empire and Gala -their beautifully crimson peel adds flecks of colour to the slaw- and the honey-flavoured Russet. The crystalised ginger adds another dimension of sweetness, and if it is chopped finely enough, its heat is greatly dissipated throughout, so it is barely noticed.

Bon app'!


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