This week’s adventures in cooking brought me face-to-face with a vegetable with which I was unfamiliar: a rutabaga. It was a key ingredient in a starchy side dish that hails from the Scottish Highlands – “Tatties and Neeps.” The “tatties” are potatoes, and the “neeps” can be either rutabagas or turnips.
As has been my usual practice when venturing forth into unknown territory, I called upon the expertise of my local grocer to make introductions to unfamiliar food. He obligingly pointed the way to a collective of root vegetables from which I plucked my quarry. Frankly, it looked like a really big beet absent the usual complement of greens. But since there was a section for beets a bit down the line, I chose not to pay attention to this little flash of insight.
As I prepared the “rutabaga,” it kept staring back at me with the eyes of a really big beet. Still, I chalked that sensation up to inexperience and soldiered on. Then, when I boiled it with the potatoes, it chose not to soften at the same rate as the potatoes, as one might expect based on the recipe’s instruction. It also didn’t succumb to mashing in equal measure to the potatoes. Still, I shrugged my shoulders and thought: “Well, I guess rutabagas are kind of hard to work with.” And when it colored the entire dish red, like a brand new red T-shirt in a load of white wash, I thought: “Mmmm. It’s just like a beet.”
Of the four of us at the dinner table, none admitted to ever eating a rutabaga before. No one complained about the dish. Quite the contrary, they all expressed gratitude for a hot meal in which they’d invested no preparation or clean-up time. My husband and friends are easy that way!
During today’s shopping trip, I had occasion to purchase another rutabaga. I felt rather smug as I went straight to the place where they’re on display and chose another fine specimen. My sense of pride drained quickly as I went through the check-out line and the item rang up as a “Bulk Beet.” After a brief chat with the cashier, a vegetable expert came over and gave me a quick lesson on root vegetables. And so (drum roll)… my erstwhile rutabaga from the prior night’s meal had been a really big beet!
I came home and made “Tatties and Neeps” the right way. Everything boiled in the pot at the proper rate, and the resulting dish was quite good. “Tatties and Beets” is OK, too, but not a combination that I’d repeat.
Yep – it was a little bit embarrassing to show my ignorance in a public forum. But, then again, the whole incident really cracked me up! It reminds me that I’m still a student of the culinary arts. I’m not supposed to know all this stuff already; I get to learn it on my cooking adventure. Now I’ll know a rutabaga when I see one.
Some vegetables really know how to make an impression, don’t they!