Updated September 16, 2022
How can you possibly replace so solid a culinary citizen as the potato?
For all the fire and character of peppers and tomatoes, the humble potato is probably the most foundational nightshade vegetable of all. Bred high upon the Incan plateau by hardy mountain people, it rolled out of its alpine redoubt to become a staple everywhere within 200 years. That’s because it’s easy to store for a long time, and its creamy texture and subtle flavorings complement so many cooking schemes.
It is also the nightshade vegetable with the clearest record of harming human health. Store a potato too long, or incorrectly, or breed it without paying attention to its toxic glycoalkaloids, and some people will get sick.
Which is interesting, but doesn’t help you replace this cornerstone among vegetables.
It’s actually not that complicated. Like most replacements, this scheme is not perfect, but it gets reliably close for many applications. And like most replacements, you’re using more than one ingredient to create a flavor and texture profile of the missing ingredient.
For best results, you’ll need a parsnip, a turnip, and a rutabaga. (Two out of three will suffice in many situations, but this trinity works best.)
You can be forgiven for that grimace you just pulled. Not a lot of people like parsnips, and especially not turnips and rutabaga. I get that. I’m definitely a late-life adopter. Yes, foodies and farm stands are making inroads, but these are still root vegetables with a PR problem.
So let’s remind ourselves why we’re here: we can’t eat potatoes. We are engaging in culinary alchemy to create a potato-like experience. If you don’t much like turnip and rutabaga, in particular, it’s probably because of their unique astringency. We will be dealing with that.
This technique relies on using parboiling to rinse the most strident notes of astringency from parsnips, turnips, and rutabaga. That means that size matters. If you’re cooking a roast all day in a crockpot, there’s not much you can do to mimic what a big chunk of potato can do in that environment. (Though rutabaga and parsnip, in particular, do well in that cooking environment.) But slices and smaller dices perform well in vegetable mixes. Grating works well for latkes.
This is so much better than no potato-like experience at all. Here’s how to make it happen:
1Peel the root vegetables. Cut them to the size needed for your recipe, but keep them separated.
2Put a pot of water on to boil and, if you have one, dig out your mesh strainer or an appropriately sized stainless steel colander. I have one that fits in my kettle and instead of dipping the vegetables out, I just put them in the strainer and dunked the strainer in the pot. The goal here is both efficient par-boiling, along with a little flavor leaching. Each of these vegetables has a touch of astringency to their flavor profiles. You’re going to parboil them, in order, moving from the least to the most astringent. Typically that’s going to be parsnip to rutabaga to turnip, though occasionally the last two will be reversed—you can tell by the smell. This way you can use the same water without unduly effecting the resulting flavor.
3Keep in mind that while the par of parboiling doesn’t actually stand for partial, that’s still what it means: The goal is not to cook the vegetables through completely, so you’ll need to pay attention to the size you ultimately need for your finished product, and how long it will be cooking in its destination recipe. To integrate your fauxtato into whatever recipe you are adapting, you’ll need to account for both the parboiling and when it gets added to your cook pot.
4For some recipes, this is going to be too much effort. What if you only need a cup of diced potatoes? In this situation I prefer to use either rutabaga or parsnip, choosing whatever looks best at the market. (All three of these root vegetables are missing from my produce section at some time during the year.) Parsnips are sometimes too small, and I’m not fond of rutabaga that’s been coated with wax. Parboil, then change the water and cook until tender in salted water. Parsnips are typically done in 5 to 10 minutes; rutabaga can take considerably longer, even as long as half an hour.