Mashed rutabaga, or swede mash, is an easy side dish and tasty alternative to mashed potato or other root vegetables. It pairs perfectly with a range of mains like roast meats and sausages with a mild and gently sweet flavor.
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Rutabaga is a vegetable that goes by a few different names, even within English. While rutabaga is the most common is North America, coming from a Swedish dialect word "rotabagge" ("rot" being root, "bagge" being bunch or lump), it also goes by Swedish turnip in places.
In the UK, the most common name is swede in England but having grown up in Scotland, we'd typically call them a turnip. And yes, we'd call white turnips a turnip as well. You'd also see it as "neeps" in Scots dialect, but these days that's just generally when it is served with haggis. Haggis, neeps and tatties (potatoes) are the traditional meal for Burns Night, celebrating the national poet. And this is just how we'd prepare them.
What are the origins of rutabaga?
Rutabaga is a root vegetable which is apparently a hybrid made with cabbage and turnip. It is believed to have originated in Scandinavia, Finland or Russia. A Swiss botanist, Gaspard Bauhin, first recorded it in 1620 having found it growing wild in Sweden (ref: Wikipedia). Presumably, this is part of why some of its many names refer to Sweden. It also remains relatively well-used in Scandinavian cooking.
Over the next century or so, the vegetable was gradually introduced elsewhere. It is well suited to the climate in Scotland and became popular there, too. Scots serve it like this as a side dish, but also use it as a feed for livestock. Having grown up there, I remember seeing sheep happily turned out in the field after the harvest of the market-worthy vegetables!
The tradition of carving pumpkins for Halloween actually also comes from this humble veg. In Scotland, Ireland and parts of England, you'd typically carve a swede for Halloween and make it into a lantern. I feel old saying I remember doing this as a child, but I did - it's smaller but a lot harder to carve than a pumpkin!
Is rutabaga considered low carb?
Rutabaga is not without some carbs or sugar, and so isn't as low in that respect as say cauliflower, if that's something you are trying to keep down. However it does fit into a keto or low carb diet in moderation and has some other nutritional benefits.
Rutabaga is a good source of fiber, fat free and contains a range of nutrients like potassium, magnesium and vitamin C. Plus, it has a lovely, gently sweet flavor so it is something that's a tasty option to eat rather than just because you feel you have to.
Rutabaga is a relatively firm vegetable so can be a little difficult to cut into. However, it is at least without any seeds and usually not too covered in lumps and bumps. This means it both peels relatively easily and you simply dice it once you get past the first cut or two that can be trickier.
Usually, the part near the top is darker, almost purple, in color on the outside. I often find you need to peel this part a bit more to get rid of the greener-looking flesh that can be more tough.
For this recipe, you want to dice the peeled rutabaga/swede into chunks. I suggest relatively small - around 1in/2.5cm so they don't take too long to cook.
If you've heard the saying, vegetables grown under the ground, start cooking in cold water, above ground, start in hot, that's true for this too. Root vegetables are more dense so need the gradual warming of the water to cook them evenly.
While I would add milk to mashed potatoes, for swede I'd always just use a little butter and a good grind of black pepper. You can add a little milk or cream if you prefer a richer, smoother texture, but I find without is both tasty and nicely light. The vegetable's natural sweetness comes through nicely, too.
Mashed rutabaga might be a less typical vegetable side dish than some others, but it has a wonderful flavor and is easy to make, too. Swede mash is naturally gently sweet and pairs so well with dishes like sausages, roasts and stews. And haggis would be lost without these neeps, too. So give some a try soon.
Try these other tasty vegetable sides:
- Maple roasted buttercup squash
- Sautéed French green beans (with shallots and garlic)
- Colcannon (Irish potatoes and cabbage)
- Cauliflower cheese (another classic British side of cauliflower topped with cheese sace)
- Plus get more side dish recipes in the archives.
Mashed rutabaga (swede mash or neeps)
- 1 ½ lb rutabaga 680g swede, peeled weight around 620g/22oz
- 1 pinch salt
- 3 tablespoon unsalted butter 44g
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper approx
- Peel the rutabaga/swede, removing all of the outer layer of skin and any areas under the skin that seem a bit green and/or tougher. Dice the inner part into cubes around 1in/2.5cm (a little larger is fine).
- Place the diced rutabaga in a pot and cover with cold water. Add a pinch of salt. Cover and place the pot on a medium-high heat to bring it to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce heat to keep at a steady boil and cook for around 15 minutes until the rutabaga is tender to a knifepoint. Remove from the heat and drain.
- Add the butter to the cooked, hot rutabaga in small pieces and mash them together so that the butter melts in as you mash. Give the mash a good seasoning of pepper, to taste, and a little salt if you feel it needs it. Serve warm.
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