OU blog

Personal Blogs


A-Z of Vegetables: Umbellifers

Visible to anyone in the world

Go on, admit it. I know you all thought I was going to flail when I got to this end of the alphabet. What could he possibly write about which is both entertaining without being exotic? Upside-down mushrooms. Pshaw. Well, I proved you wrong, didn’t I! Haha! Let’s talk about umbellifers.

Umbellifers are the collective name for plants of the parsley family, which includes coriander, celery, carrots and parsnips. So what does it mean to be an umbellifer, in flavour and eating terms? It means that there is a certain indigestibility in their raw form, with a crunch or stringiness which makes people look like masticating cattle – and just as spiritually alive as that suggests. It also means that the almost brutally up-front nature of some of the tastes is mellowed quite extensively by long cooking, in the same way that a gobby politician is humbled by a bad trip to a sunbed.

If I was called upon to describe a flavour similarity between umbellifers, then I would struggle. Parsnips and carrots, although looking like the same vegetable with different tanning salons, taste surprisingly different when you think of parsnips’ astringent spiciness and carrots’ bovine woody sweetness. Celery looks like none of the other umbellifers – look at that pocked bulbous root and the inexplicable frondy bits, like decorating an elevator shaft with tinsel – and has a watery, watercressy flavour which makes it distinct from all the others. Coriander is parsley without inhibitions. The only time any of them seem to coincide is in stews – so in the recipe below I decided to buck the trend and force them all to be plate-mates, if just to find out if there was any correspondence in flavour between them all. What did I find? That there is a spectrum of flavour with coriander on the extreme of one end and carrot at the other. Following the horseshoe spectrum of politics, coriander and carrot coincide in flavour terms when you consider their orangey quality. Although I wouldn’t want to ascribe political affiliations with umbellifers – which it seems I have done here regardless – it is fun to speculate. I can’t help feeling that parsley would have no particular affiliation, mainly because it can’t bring itself to taste more exclusive.

Umbellifer salad, with poppy and caraway, for winter days

  1. I know I said this is a salad for cold days, of course I do. I noticed. Which is why this salad goes in the oven. Not least because, no matter what Dr Rupy says, raw parsnip is horrible. So: turn the oven to 200ºC.
  2. For each eater, get out 1 carrot, 1 parsnip and 1 stick of celery. Bear with me: celery is not just something you eat on slimming days or put in stock for a reason which now escapes you, it is one of your five a day and is one of those vegetables which tastes clean. By the way, if the carrots are enormous, downscale.
  3. Chop the carrots and parsnips and celery into equal-sized chunks. Pieces about the size of a little finger work well – although to be fair, I have huge hands.
  4. Tumble the chopped vegetables into a roasting tray – high sides make life easier here – and drizzle over 1 tbsp melted vegan butter and 1 tsp honey. Is honey vegan? Drizzle over 1 tsp maple syrup. Season with the merest hint of salt (helps things soften) and roast for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your fingers (see step 3). They should be soft with some bite.
  5. Meanwhile, in the pot in which you melted butter in step 4, melt another tbsp vegan butter and toss in, per eater, 2 tsp poppy seeds, 1 tsp caraway seeds and 1 tsp coriander seeds. If you don’t think caraway and coriander will taste good together in this scenario, omit as necessary. They’re my three favourite seeds. ‘Fry’ the seeds for about 1 minute until they begin to pop, then pour them into a cup and put to one side.
  6. Once the veggies are roasted, toss everything together, finishing with a spritz of lemon or lime juice and copious chopped parsley. Season to taste and serve with chickpeas and rice if you want to go all-out winter comforts.
Notes: when I say one tablespoon of melted butter, I mean measure a tablespoon first and then melt it. In a microwave is easiest – although obviously put the butter in a bowl in the microwave.

Share post