No multi-day paddling trip should be planned without taking different root vegetables on board as your main produce source for days – if not weeks – to come. They are the most faithful travel companions since they don’t require much attention, will keep for weeks and can be stored easily in the bottom of your kayak, where the cooler water temperature in contact with the boat surface transforms the space into a natural root cellar. In return, they will provide you with endless options for creating delicious, nutritious, easy, quick and filling camp meals. And if day trips are more your cup of tea, well, root vegetables remain an exquisite way to experiment with unusual flavors for your lunch picnic.
I’m just back from a month long paddling holiday in the coastal waters of Massachusetts where I’ve had a chance to experiment with many produce for creating new easy kayak menus for short or long term outings. Although I love fresh tomatoes, local corn, zucchini or eggplants, they are not the hardiest travelers for anything more than a 24-48 hour trip. So this year, my culinary curiosity was centered exclusively around root vegetables because not only are they at their peak from September to November but also because no other produce is easier to bring along for longer paddling trips. And there are so many choices available at this time of year: red, yellow, purple or orange carrots, Fingerling, Russet, blue flesh, Yukon Gold potatoes, rutabaga, Jerusalem artichokes, daikon, sweet potatoes, cippolini, Spanish or yellow onions, celeriac, salsify, parsnip, turnip, red or yellow beets; the choice is vast and truly mouth-watering. Root vegetables are also amazingly adaptable: no matter what your free time for cooking at camp is, all these vegetables can be very quick to prepare and energy-savvy.
For instance, root vegetables make an excellent appetizer eaten raw or with a dip, they are delicious as slaws, they cook in minutes in soups or stews, are exquisite sautéed, roasted on your camp grill or wrapped in aluminum foil with a bit of olive oil and herbs. Most will mix and match perfectly, allowing for many combinations of flavors and textures. They are also very inspirational because the vast majority of the World cuisines use them profusely, either in mid-eastern, North American, Indian or Asian dishes such as curries, soups, couscous or stir-fries, all very easy to adapt for camp cooking. They can also be paired with pastas, rice, fish, meat, lentils, nuts, tofu, cheese, which make them a key ingredient for the simplest one pot dishes. In other words, no matter how tired you are after a long day of paddling or what’s left in your cooking dry bags, these yummy travel companions will never let you down, as I discovered during my last kayak trip…
Root vegetables are also a good choice nutritionally, with a low calorie content varying between 50 and 100 calories per cup, no fat and a good fiber ratio, especially when eaten with the peel. Most of these beauties are also filled with disease fighting phytonutrients called antioxydants, which are highly effective at reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer and age-related problems. With their vibrant yellow-orange color, carrots, sweet potatoes and turnips for instance, are loaded with beta-carotene, vitamin A and C, while red beets are rich in sugars and of another antioxidant called anthocyanin. Beets are also loaded with folate and potassium and are a good source of calcium, just as turnips and parsnips are. Jerusalem artichokes have an interesting sweet and nutty flavor and they are also loaded with inulin, a group of simple sugars considered as soluble fibers which promote good intestinal probiotic bacteria. They also increase calcium and magnesium absorption. Potatoes, for their part, provide needed fibers (when eaten with the skin), vitamin B6, C, potassium, niacin and manganese.
Choose firm root vegetables that are not too big, and with a glossy peel or skin. Favor organic root vegetables, especially for tubers or carrots, because this will allow you to eat the skin, which is rich in fibers and nutrients. Before leaving for a kayak trip, store them in a jute bag to let them breath and place in the bottom of your kayak, with a thin layer of insulation (such as a towel, for instance). This will keep them at an ideal temperature and will protect them from damage due to sun or heat exposure. Brush, rinse thoroughly and pat dry well before storing in the jute bag to prevent humidity. Carry a grater and a peeler with you, along with a good cutting knife, aluminum foil and a slicing board. The smaller you cut the vegetables the shorter the cooking time, which is important for outdoor food preparation. Root vegetables also love to be cooked with specific dry herbs and spices such as cumin, turmeric, curry powder, rosemary, thyme, marjoram and fennel seeds. Olive oil is also a perfect pairing, just as Tamari (natural soy sauce), Balsamic vinegar or gourmet flavor salts. Bring them on board too for exquisite easy recipes.
Celeriac, rutabaga and carrot slaw (4 servings)
Using a large grater, grate the celeriac into a large bowl. Pour the lemon juice and mix well to prevent oxidation. Grate carrots and rutabaga. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Let stand for 30 minutes to blend flavors.
Raw red beet salad
Grate the beets, using a fine grater. Add the remaining ingredients, mix well. Let stand for half an hour to blend flavors.
Roasted root vegetables in foil for fire pits
In a large bowl, place all cut vegetables. Add remaining ingredients, except bacon bits. Mix well. Divide the seasoned vegetables equally and place them in the center of each of the 4 aluminum foils. Sprinkle with bacon bits. Fold to make sturdy pouches. Cook either directly over hot coals, turning frequently to prevent burning, or on a slightly oiled grill for 35 to 45 minutes, or until done
Skillet sautéed root vegetables with dry sausage
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and heat a few seconds. Add the onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic, sweet potato, potato, carrot and celeriac. Sauté over medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Add dry herbs, water (or white wine), cover and cook until almost done, for another 5-7 minutes. Remove cover, add sugar and let color a few more minutes before adding the dry sausage. Mix well and serve.
Vegetable-lentil comfort soup
In a large pot, heat oil. Add onion and cook over medium heat until translucent. Add cumin, turmeric, cardamom, lentils and cook 2 more minutes. Add broth, garlic, dry herbs, grated vegetables and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook until lentils and vegetables are done. Mash half of the soup with a fork to obtain a good consistency.
Potato-celeriac mashed with grated cheese
In a large pot, cook onion in oil over medium-low heat until transparent. Turn up heat, add chicken broth and bring to a boil, add grated celeriac and potatoes, cover and cook until vegetable are very soft. Remove the excess liquid, keeping only 2-3 tbsp in the pot. Add margarine or butter, cheddar, cumin, parsley, sage and savory and season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, over low heat, until cheddar melts.
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