Salsify: The Vegetable You've Never Met

| 5/18/2010 12:27:08 PM

Tags: Salsify, Vegetables, Soups,

ChuckAsk most people, even foodies, if they’ve ever eaten salsify. You’ll get a blank stare. Those who have heard of it assume it’s the same as turnips or parsnips. I almost didn’t write about it, it’s so rare. But it’s too delicious to ignore.

Salsify RootSalsify is a root vegetable that was popular in the U.S. during the 1700s. For modern purposes, it basically comes in two types: salsify, which is white, and scorzonera, which is black. Some websites say that other parts of the plant are edible, though I’ve never heard of this. It is also called “oyster plant,” and if found in a store, might actually be labeled as such. The roots are similar in shape to a carrot or parsnip.

Scorzonera has the more oyster taste, while salsify, which I think is the more likely-to-find variety, has a taste that has been described as oyster/asparagus or oyster/artichoke heart. It can be added to any root vegetable dish, but try it first on its own.

But once again: it’s hard to find. Even in Chicago. A farmer’s market might have it. If you’re okay with canned (and that’s fine for your first try), you can order online from Roland Foods. If you want to grow your own, buy seeds at these places: Salsify seeds.

Salsify FlowerIf you are preparing fresh salsify, don’t wash it. Just store it in plastic. When it’s time to prepare it, I recommend wearing rubber or plastic gloves – and old clothes. Salsify exudes a sticky substance that is unpleasant to work with and impossible to wash off; cooking removes this substance. Place the peeled salsify in a bowl with water a bit of lemon juice to prevent it from discoloring prior to cooking.

Salsify supposedly grows wild throughout the U.S., and one source I consulted said it was “plentiful” in deserted urban areas and could be spotted by its purple flower. I’m not sure I want to dig my food out of a vacant lot filled with shards of glass and who knows what else, but it’s an interesting twist – that a rare vegetable is all around us – if it’s true.

9/21/2014 12:16:53 PM

I grew up on salsify. My family has grown this plant for over 100 years. It is hard to grow and some years we may have a plentiful crop and other years not so great. Therefore, we usually only had for special dinners, like Thanksgiving, etc. We clean, slice and pressure can in quart jars. to prepare, place a quart of salsify in oven safe casserole bowl. Add half and half and crushed saltine cracker. Allow the crackers to soak up the half and half. Add more crushed saltine crackers as a dressing on top, and pepper. Bake till bubbly in 350 oven. BTW, my brothers fight over the last helping every year.

chuck mallory
5/22/2010 11:43:43 AM

Shannon - the "sticky substance impossible to wash off" comment is only related to your clothes. It can come off your hands, of course, but it's like pine tar so that's why I recommended the gloves. As for variations, I have had it in a casserole and am working on a recipe for that. You would have to boil and drain it first, though. I wouldn't recommend steaming it. I think it would still be sticky. It needs a hard boiling. But it is delicious and worth the effort! --Chuck Mallory

chuck mallory
5/22/2010 11:39:38 AM

Nebraska Dave--You can drain off the water, though the soup will be thicker and very creamy if you do. Once it's boiled you are fine. Salsify is hard to find at grocery stores, though I have been told it periodically shows up at Whole Foods. It's skinnier than parsnips, actually almost exactly the same shape and size as medium carrots. It's easy to grow, so if you like gardening, that's a great way to get them. --Chuck Mallory

nebraska dave
5/18/2010 5:33:04 PM

Chuck, I’ve never heard of Salsify and it does certainly look like a parsnip. It always amazes me how many vegetables there are. Here in the Midwest we really don’t go past corn, potatoes, peas, and carrots. Tomatoes are for a hamburger but salsa is catching on. When you cook the Salsify, do you drain off the liquid to be rid of the sticky substance or does the boiling take care of that issue? I haven’t looked for Salsify so I don’t know if it’s in the stores here or not. I have to pay more attention in the fresh vegetable section next time I shop. I have foliaged along old railroad beds for asparagus and elder berries in the fall. Some vacant lots where houses one stood have rhubarb and raspberry patches. Mulberry trees are every where and I hope to make jam from the berries this year. I figure I can’t beat them than I might as well find something to do with the berries. I have two neighbors that have fence line trees that spill over into my yard. Now I just have to fight the birds for them. Welcome to Grit. I’m looking forward to the next super side dish.

s.m.r. saia
5/18/2010 2:38:53 PM

Hello! What an interesting post. I've heard of this vegetable, but have never tried to grow or eat it. I think that the "sticky substance that's impossible to wash off" might discourage me, but maybe I'll try growing some...Does it matter how you cook it? Do you have to boil it or put it in soup, or can you roast it or steam it?

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