Saturday, May 30, 2015

Whose afraid of the big bad Swede?

Not me; I grow Swedes, I eat Swedes and some might say that perhaps I personify the Swede : Rough around the edges, downtrodden but sweet when treated right. Well life’s not quite that bad but Swede graces our table all through the winter and early spring. Swede is at its best once the cold weather has set in. At this time Swedes lose a lot of their mustard overtones and gain some sweetness (much like radishes which lose their heat).
The Swede - an ugly duckling amongst root veg
 It’s a vegetable that our parents’ generation are more familiar with than we are and you can still see it in a soup pack in some shops (I think).  I grew up eating it in soups and that was about it. If you live in the southern states of Australia – it is one of your seasonal vegetables available from May to September and take it from me – they are easy to grow and very productive.

But despite them being plentiful, palatable and seasonal they are bypassed on the shopping rounds. People look at them suspiciously, simultaneously not knowing how to cook with them and remembering that they don’t really like them. And it’s true, as far as a vegetable goes, they sit in an unfavourable position somewhere between radish and Kohl rabi (both of which I like of course).  They don’t cook fast, they lack a distinctive flavour, aren’t that sweet and may have a mustardy aftertaste if grown at the wrong time.  So why should we bother eating them?

Well I grew up eating vegetables and being told that they are good for me – food as medicine I suppose. Science papers continue to emerge with new and fantastic findings about vegetables.  It turns out a serving of Swede will provide you with one quarter of your daily requirement of vitamin C.  If you also ate the Swede leaves you could probably add the same benefits as eating Kale. Few of us manage to eat the 5 serves a day that are recommended – it’s pretty hard to do unless you eat vegetables for lunch and breakfast too.

Given the lack of any pervasive Swede eating culture (we don’t know how to cook it), it’s not surprising it is overlooked in the gamut of choice that is available. Yes our parents probably ate it because it was cheap and available and soups went a long way. Broccoli was yet to make an appearance on the market and nor were there any out-of-season vegetables available like there are now. Now you can buy Broccoli 365 days a year if you want to thanks to modern plant breeders and refrigerated transport. Increasingly more of the shopping trolley is filled with processed and pre-prepared food so the trend for Swede consumption looks not so good.

Thus eating Swede comes about through a conscious choice about food miles, seasonality, thriftiness or culture. We cook it in order to make a meal and use something that’s in abundance locally. Although it stars in slow cooked casseroles and soups where it keeps its shape well along with parsnip and carrot, it can be used in quick cook meals by grating it first.  When grated and sautéed with onion you can include in a frittata, or add cream and chicken and make a fantastic side dish, pasta sauce or pie filling. Swedes are a classic ingredient in pasties and Swede gratin is easy.  We spread out some beef brisket, and cover with a grated layer of Swede, a few pickled cumquats, pepper then slow cook in stock for 3 hours. Make half of your potato mash with Swede to go under your lamb shanks. A slice of raw Swede covered in nut butter is a great Paleo snack and as far as Paleo cooking goes, you can replace potato with Swede in many recipes. Always cut the outer skin layer off which can be bitter and tough. In short if you’re a good cook, you’ll have no trouble including Swede in your daily cooking and you won’t have any trouble eating the results.

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