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A-Z of Vegetables: Swede

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Cue many depressing jokes about turnips and Swedish people. Sigh. Maybe I should have leant into my Scottishness and just called them ‘neeps’ in the N article, instead of making a big song and dance about seaweed. Never mind. 

Swedes taste somewhere between cabbage and radish, except sweeter than both, especially when roasted (although cut them into batons and steam them and they will be as yellow as rods from a nuclear reactor). Their honeyish flavour can be enhanced with carrots and star anise in a soup which will be so sweet you’ll be wondering why you’re putting croutons in pudding. But roasted, swede goes crisp on the outside and buttery in the inside, rather like a good pumpkin. 

(Side note: there’s no such thing as a good pumpkin. They’re specifically bred to taste disgusting so children don’t chew on them when lit for halloween. They’re also nigh-on impossible to cut open unless you have good knives because you’re a Tudor executioner. Buy squash instead.) But back to swedes.

The most interesting thing about swedes – hey, cut me some slack, I’m writing about root vegetables here! – is how they are, in essence, just an enormous radish. In fact, what you can do is lightly steam radishes, white turnip slices and swede slices and do a taste comparison of the three: you’ll find that they’re basically all the same thing, in much the same way that a Miniature Pinscher, Golden Retriever and German Shepherd are basically all the same thing.

Speaking of swede’s cousins, I’m just going to use them as examples to make a political point – specifically, in relation to how supermarkets have led the developed and developing worlds into a distasteful mindset of being able to eat whatever they want, whenever they want. In early 2023, some supermarkets were suffering shortages of salad vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers, which in the winter are not grown in the UK (unless in an enormous hothouse like Thanet Earth). Senior politician Therese Coffey was mocked for suggesting that the UK populace eat turnips instead. But British turnips are not as easy to find in supermarkets, compared to their summer-grown and imported cousins, radishes. The commodification of food in this way has led to the point where turnips, when suggested to be eaten, are laughed at. Lest we forget, we are living through a climate crisis which is altering the very ground in which we farm food. I’m not suggesting that radishes aren’t delicious, but we need to recognise that just because turnips are always available, they’re not a beautiful colour, their flavour is delicate, it doesn’t mean that turnips aren’t worth eating. In winter, we shouldn’t be eating fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and radishes simply because they’re not meant to be grown in winter. We would diminish our carbon footprints if we all agreed to abide by the seasons when we choose our vegetables: radishes in summer, turnips in winter. This doesn’t mean that winter food need be boring: Maris Pipers, onions, carrots, cabbages, squashes, celery, sprouts and swede are all delicious when cooked well and some can be eaten raw. Frozen and canned foods are available. My point is that just because a vegetable is unglamourous, or unfashionable, or isn’t eaten elsewhere in the world – who cares? Globalism has made the super-rich super-richer and caused global devastation on our environment. One thing we can do to mitigate this is to take up or investigate veganism. The next is to eat the food grown on our shores. And we can start by roasting swede with plums.

Jammy swede, which is an ideal side for 4 portions of a bland protein like tofu

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC fan. Yes, this is the temperature I use for virtually everything. It also happens to be a preset temperature on my oven.
  2. Chop 1 swede, which will be the size of a small football, into ping-pong-ball-sized chunks and put in a small roasting tray. Halve and stone 6 plums and add those too. 
  3. Pour over 1-2 tbsp olive oil, toss to coat in the oil, and roast for 1 hour until the swede slices all the way through and the plums have reduced down to an almost-sauce which is gooey, caramelised and fruity in the same (but less expensive) way of balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses. Have you seen how expensive that last one is? Bloody hell.

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