Veggie of the Week - Salsify
sponsored by Coleman Farms
In another country I used to see something in the canned vegetable section called
Salsify. The cans were, I think, from Poland, and the picture on the label was a paragon of Communist marketing, ugly enough to convince me not to buy, but mysterious enough that I never forgot the vegetable. Now we can have it fresh. It's still not pretty, being a long skinny dirty white root, not bright and sunny like a carrot, more like a parsnip that needs a wash. But it's not mysterious at all.
Salsify is sometimes called Oyster Plant, on the grounds that it tastes like oysters. Growing conditions may influence flavor (as may the taster's expectations), but it requires some imagination to taste oysters in locally grown salsify, which has been described as having a 'slightly briney taste' it might share with an oyster. Salsify is also described as tasting like asparagus, artichoke heart, or not much at all.
You could say pretty much the same about potatoes, depending on the potato, and potatoes are probably the common root vegetable most like salsify, which hasn't the sweetness of carrots and parsnips nor the boldness of beet or turnip, but does have a high starch content like potatoes. In fact, nutritionally, potatoes and salsify are quite similar, providing a good amount of vitamin C, some vitamin B, lots of potassium. I think potatoes provide more iron, and salsify more calcium. Salsify won't cook up floury like some potatoes; rather the texture will be soft but fairly dense, like artichoke heart or Jerusalem Artichoke.
Salsify seems mostly to be boiled, after which it can be mashed, alone or with a contrasting root vegetable, used (indeed, boiled) in soup, used in salads (as can be the greens, if you have them), served on its own with some kind of dressing (vinaigrette, butter and pepper) or sprinkled with cheese and put under the grill for a bit - pretty much the things you might do with a potato. The only trick to preparation is to have some lightly acidulated water to put the peeled and sliced root into, as it discolors more rapidly than potato. There's an interesting recipie for fried, or sauteed salsify with apples, one which could easily be adapted to parsnips, if in fact it wasn't first used with them. One of our links also suggests a 'gratin', possibly mixing salsify with one or two other root vegetables.
Look for salsify at Coleman Farms and possibly other Santa Barbara Farmers' Market growers.
Thanks to Washington State University for our photo