The rutabaga will likely never win any vegetable beauty contests and, despite holding a place near to the hearts of many hard-core vegans, it also won't find its way onto the dinner tables of many home cooks. The reality is that despite the gruff appearance and rock-hard texture, rutabagas make tasty side dishes for many different meals. They also stand up to several different methods of preparation, including steaming.
The rutabaga is hard and it looks like it just came out of the ground, but you should know a little more if you're going to include it in your family menu. The rutabaga is in the same family as cabbage and turnips, called the Brassica family. A raw rutabaga is quite crisp and has a slightly bitter taste. The flavor mellows as it cooks, and it looks golden like a potato but without all the starch. A smaller rutabaga is usually sweeter than a big one, and despite the waxy feel to the outside, it is not difficult to peel with a standard vegetable peeler.
The Steam Technique
Steamed rutabaga makes a satisfying and tasty side dish, as you can add many complementary flavors to match the main dish. The ideal consistency of steamed rutabaga is firm, but no longer crunchy like when it is raw. You should be able to pierce it with a fork, like a turnip. It is wise to cut the rutabaga into cubes, or into pieces of the size you will be serving. Trying to steam a whole rutabaga or even large pieces would be highly inefficient. Set up a basic steamer basket over a pot of boiling water and steam your rutabaga pieces for about 20 minutes, or until they are cooked through. Then, add them to your dish or continue on with the rest of the preparation.
Selection and Storage
When choosing a rutabaga to bring home for steaming, search through your grocery store produce department for smooth vegetables that are round or oval and firm to the touch. They should feel a little heavy for their size and be free from cracks, cuts or holes. They will have a clear wax to prevent moisture loss, so if you see this, it is normal. The rutabaga is a hearty vegetable and once you get it home it will keep in your fridge for more than two weeks in a plastic bag.
If you don't have access to a steamer, or you'd just like a different taste, you can prepare rutabaga a few different ways. You can cut it into thin sticks or strips and serve it raw in salads, braise it in a flavorful liquid, stir-fry it, roast it or cook it in the microwave. For roasting, stir-fries or braising, boil it in water for around 5 minutes to soften it up just a little. For the microwave, cook cubed rutabaga for up to 9 minutes on High power in a dish with a few tablespoons of water.
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