Forgotten Root Vegetable Soup

“In an era of unprecedented economic inequality, dim millennial futures, and deep political disillusionment, food has also become a surrogate for hope—and personal freedom. This is understandable, but at meal’s end, our food isn’t allocated by choice, desire, values, or even by need, but through market demand. Capitalism is the silent ingredient in our food. It means that the 50 million people living in poverty in the richest country on earth—many of whom grow, harvest, process and serve our food—can’t afford to be foodies; they’re too busy worrying about where their next meal is coming from. If we care about people as much as we do about food, and if we really want to change the food system, we’d better become fluent in capitalism.”

Eric Holt-Giménez is an agroecologist, political economist and professor of food systems transformation and social movements. Read more food movement quotes here.

Nearly one-third of all the vegetables Americans eat are potatoes, and they are chiefly consumed in the form of french fries and chips. The next most common vegetable consumed is the tomato, but you won’t like the form we usually have that in either. Think about what we like to dip all those fried potatoes in… But let’s focus on root vegetables for now. We (that includes me) have largely forgotten that there is a whole world of root vegetables growing underground, just out of sight. Like turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, and celeriac. If some of these words sound like a foreign language, you’re not alone! Even distinguishing them at the market is difficult for me. This is through no fault of our own. Our food system is guided by perverse incentives that lead to the overproduction of cheap commodity crops, at the expense of our health, the environment and the livelihoods of farmers and farm laborers. If we want to understand how it came to be that way, as agroecologist Eric Holt-Giménez says, “we’d better become fluent in capitalism.”

Here’s a quick guide to four root vegetables that are helping fuel my research this week. I recommend mixing only two types in the soup recipe below.

Forgotten Root Vegetable Soup

Makes 6 servings.


  • ½ cup grain of choice, rinsed and cooked (see note)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 700 gr (1 ½ lb) root vegetables, peeled and cubed
  • 1-2 vegetable broth cubes
  • About 1 ½ liter (6 cups) boiled water
  • 1 hard cheese rind (see note)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • A squeeze of lemon juice or 1 teaspoon white vinegar


  1. Rinse the grain you will be using and place it in a pot with lots of salted water. Bring to a boil and leave cooking for the time required to reach the desired texture. Usually about 30-40 minutes.
  2. While the grain cooks, prepare all of your vegetables. Dice up the onion, celery, and carrot. Set aside. Dice up the garlic and set aside. Peel and cut all of your root vegetables into even sized cubes (the smaller you cut them, the quicker they cook).
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot. Sautee the carrots, onions, and celery with salt and pepper over medium-high heat until onions are translucent. Toss in the garlic, bay leaf, and thyme. Stir and heat up for a minute. Toss in all of the root vegetables. Stir and heat them up for a minute. Toss in the parmesan rind, boiled water, broth cubes and stir to blend together. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Stir the soup every few minutes. Strain the cooked grains from their cooking water and add to the soup. Throw in the frozen peas. Cook for another 5 minutes or so.
  5. Once the root vegetables have cooked through, taste the soup and add salt as needed. Squeeze lemon juice directly into the soup or pour in vinegar and stir.
  6. Pour into bowls, drizzle with olive oil and serve with toast.


  • Grains you can use: farro (spelt), barley, or wheat berries. I like these options because they maintain their texture well in soups and are very high in protein. You can use rice, but it will absorb a lot of moisture and become soggy.
  • In terms of the cheese rind, when I grate down to the end of a piece of hard cheese and reach the rind, I don’t throw it out. Instead, I keep it stored in the freezer to throw into soups like this one to add flavor. I like to use parmesan or Grana Padano, but any hard, aged cheese could work.
  • If you want to make this soup vegan, use 5 gr (1/8 oz) of dried mushrooms instead of a cheese rind to add flavor. Just soak them in boiled water while you prepare the vegetables, then chop them and throw them into the soup with their soaking water (it’s full of flavor!).  
  • Remove the bay leaf and the cheese rind before serving. No, don’t eat that soggy piece of cheese!

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