“Roots: The Complete Guide to the Underground Superfood.” By Stephanie Pedersen. Sterling. 192 pages. $14.95

“Roots: The Complete Guide to the Underground Superfood” pays homage to the humble vegetables that grow underground. Humans have eaten roots since the beginning of time, author Stephanie Pedersen writes, both for nourishment and for medicinal purposes.

Her compact cookbook is packed with root vegetable facts and lore. In many countries, a specific root vegetable is a source of cultural identity. In my Irish family, potatoes were the mainstay of our diet; we ate them at practically every meal, while Pedersen says it was her Sicilian in-laws who introduced her to rutabaga (though it hails from northern Europe). Traditional Chinese medicine uses burdock to heal skin conditions, stimulate hair growth and purify the blood, while beets are considered a blood-building vegetable – no surprise given their blood-red color.

Edible roots, Pedersen writes, grow on every continent except Antarctica and they’re infinitely adaptable, doing well in sandy, loamy or clay-like soils; and moist, dry or cold conditions, which makes for a long growing season. These factors make them relatively easy to grow. They are also easy to store: Root vegetables can last for months in a dark, cool cellar. For all these reasons, root vegetables have long been a dietary backbone for humankind.

The book is a paperback, and one in a series Pedersen has written (others include “Kale” and “Coconut”). It has a handful of color photos of finished dishes, as well as small, sepia photos of the raw roots and other ingredients. Chapter 1 offers 40 pages of nutritional profiles. The information on beets, carrots, and parsnips as well as lesser-known roots such as burdock, cassava and scorzonera, encompasses vitamin levels, medicinal benefits and history, and tells readers how to buy, grow, use and store root vegetables. The remaining chapters offer recipes.

In general, the recipes are simple; many contain fewer than a half-dozen ingredients. Since sweet potatoes are a favorite with our family, I tested a recipe for Sweet Potato Protein Burgers. Most of my past attempts at making meatless burgers have resulted in crumbly patties. These sweet potato burgers were a definite improvement. Yes, the texture was soft and somewhat squishy, but the burgers held together, and the combination of flavors was fresh and savory. In fact, we taste-tested the blended ingredients before mixing in the quinoa and sunflower seeds, and thought it would make a delicious dip. Pedersen writes that she sometimes crumbles the cooked burger into a chopped salad for a delicious nutrition boost. Really, you can’t go wrong whatever way you eat these burgers.

Reading “Roots” has motivated me to incorporate more of these “underground superfoods” into my family’s diet. Given their versatility – they can be eaten raw, boiled, baked or roasted – that shouldn’t be too hard.



The recipe calls for 4 patties, but I found I was able to make 6.

Makes 4 (or 6) servings

1 cup cooked sweet potato, no skin

1 cup cooked chickpeas

1/2 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger root

1 garlic clove, minced

2 scallions, chopped

1/2 minced jalapeño (optional)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, dill, chives, or a combination of these

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup cooked quinoa, white or red

3 tablespoons quinoa, millet, teff, or almond flour

1 cup unsalted sunflower seeds

2 tablespoons avocado or coconut oil, for frying

In a food processor, pulse the sweet potato, chickpeas, ginger, garlic, scallions, jalapeño (if using), herbs, salt, pepper, cumin, and lemon juice, until somewhat blended. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, then sprinkle in the cooked quinoa and the grain or nut flour. Gently fold until combined. Adjust seasonings and fold in the sunflower seeds.

Form the mixture into 4 (or 6) patties and place them, covered, in the refrigerator for 1 hour or more to firm up. To cook, add 1 tablespoon of oil to a frying pan and heat over medium heat. Add the patties and cook for about 5 minutes, until golden. Be careful to keep the heat low. Turn the burgers and cook on the other side for about 5 minutes, until golden.

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