Salsify is an interesting root vegetable if you want to try your hand at old-world cooking. It fell out of favor at the start of the last century but has been used by European cooks more or less continuously for centuries. The big drawback with salsify is the fact that you might have trouble finding it in the typical grocery store. Below is a look at some salsify substitutes that you can try instead.
Your best bet: Scorzonera
Scorzonera and salsify are similar enough that scorzonera is sometimes called black salsify despite not being a close relative of true salsify. Both scorzonera and salsify belong to the dandelion family and have edible taproots and greens. Both can be cooked in the same ways: boiled, fried or baked.
They do have differences in terms of texture with scorzonera being slightly less fibrous than salsify, but this difference is minor at best. Scorzonera does have one major advantage over salsify, which is that it is does not turn to mush quite as easily. It also has a disadvantage in that it is just as rare in the US as salsify, possibly rarer; however, both are relatively easy to grow.
While they are relatively obscure and forgotten vegetables in the US, both have consistently been used in Europe for centuries. When using scorzonera in place of salsify, remember that it too has a tendency to brown when peeled. You can prevent this by placing it in water to which a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar has been added.
A decent second choice: Parsnip
The parsnip is a carrot-shaped taproot vegetable that you can cook in the same ways that you would cook salsify. Serve parsnips mashed with butter or slice them for soups. Both young parsnips and salsify are edible raw and can work in salads. You can also batter and deep fry both of them.
Parsnips have a distinct advantage over salsify in that they are much easier to find in US grocery stores. In addition, the fact that they have a similar sweetness to carrots may make them more appealing to American taste buds. Any salsify dish made with parsnips will be more flavorful. Like salsify, parsnips are believed to be from the Mediterranean region and have a long history of being consumed in Europe.
In a pinch: Burdock root
Burdock root looks more like salsify than many of the top substitutes. They are similar enough that they are sometimes confused for each other and may be mislabeled in markets. Burdock root is also rich in inulin, which means that it can provide one of salsify’s main nutritional benefits. While it is traditionally used in Japanese stir-fried dishes, you can also use it just as you would use salsify. Note that burdock naturally has a stronger flavor than that of salsify. It can be earthy and somewhat bitter. Soak burdock roots to get rid of some of that bitterness and make it more like salsify.
Celeriac is another root vegetable that can stand in for salsify due to its mild flavor. Traditional ways to use celeriac include mashing it with potatoes. Celeriac has a bulbous, almost spherical shape and has a subtle celery flavor instead of the artichoke flavor that you get from salsify. Even with those differences, it has many similarities including the fact that it is pale and starchy. As a result, it can be used in almost all of the dishes that call for salsify.
Rutabaga is another root vegetable that can play the same role as salsify. Rutabaga tastes more like cabbage than like artichokes.