Here’s a photo I took of some of the lovely turnip greens that our garden grows. For more about our farm’s vegetable production, check out our garden manager’s blog, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres. Pam published a book about her experiences growing food for our community. It’s interesting to read about the gardening aspect of the veggies I’m cooking with!
It took me about a month to realize that my previous post, Rutabagas & Turnips, was a love letter about Rutabagas that actually didn’t include any turnip-specific recipes! But the last few weeks the garden has been harvesting lovely turnips & turnip greens, so I’ve remembered a few of my favorite turnip recipes.
I can understand that turnips are an acquired taste (somewhat unpopular, bitter to some), but for me they have a fascinating, curious, slightly variable earthy taste that bounces around my palate between bitter and sweet. On the taste bud palate of the tongue, sweet and bitter are on opposite ends. Highlighting those flavors with sour, salty, or umami can tie the flavor together and balance out the bitterness.
Turnips Roasted to Perfection
Wash your turnips, trim off the ends, and chop them into 1-inch cubish pieces. Mature (larger) turnips might have a thick skin to peel off like rutabagas, while younger (smaller) turnips are tender and thin-skinned enough to not need peeling. Toss the turnip cubes with a light drizzle of oil, salt & pepper. Place in a single layer on a greased baking sheet pan, and roast in a 350-degree oven for about 25-35 minutes. There is an ideal level of doneness to watch for, when the turnips have softened on the inside, and caramelized & browned on the outside, before they’re burnt, that creates such a heavenly flavor!
Sauteed Turnips with their greens
Another classic way to serve turnips well is to combine them with turnip greens, if you can find them still attached, or otherwise fresh. Turnip greens by themselves have a strong bitter taste that, at least to me, is not unpleasant, but sharp – a bit like arugula, a radish-y flavor.
Trim the greens, wash thoroughly, and chop into 1-inch strips. Wash the turnip roots, trim off the ends, and chop into half-inch cubes. Heat a skillet, drizzle a bit of oil first and then add the turnip root chunks. They’ll need substantially longer to cook than the greens, so give them a 10 minute head start. Cover the skillet for a couple of minutes to help steam-cook and soften the turnips, stirring occasionally. When the turnip cubes are mostly softened and starting to brown slightly, add in salt & pepper, and then the greens. Saute, stirring, until the greens have softened, about 3 minutes (if they’re taking a while to soften, add a couple spoonfuls of water into the pan and cover for a minute). I like the greens to still have plenty of green color, effectively garnishing their white root. To give this dish some extra flavor, I recommend adding a sprinkle of lemon juice (or red wine, but not both) to the skillet towards the end of cooking.
Boiled turnips with fresh lemon & cilantro
Wash and chop turnips (either cubes or slices would do). Place them in a pot with water an inch higher than the level of the turnips. Boil until tender but not mushy, testing with a fork, and drain. Wash & chop one bunch of cilantro. Zest a fresh lemon, and squeeze the fresh juice over the turnips. Add salt & pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, & the chopped cilantro, & mix. The lemon & cilantro add a great kick to compliment the kick of the turnip’s taste.
Deep-fried Turnip slices
When in doubt, deep-fry it. I really like how deep-frying changes and softens the flavor of turnips. They’re especially good dipped in soy sauce with a couple slices of ginger root.
Use your favorite batter – I usually do a light, tempura-like batter with flour & cornstarch. Dip very thin slices of turnip into batter, letting some excess batter drip off. Drop into hot oil to cook for about 5-10 minutes, until the crust is crisp and golden and the turnip has softened.
A note about deep-frying setup: make sure it’s safe – as in, use a pan with at least 4 inches of height in case of splatter etc. Don’t over-fill with oil – you only need about 2-3 inches of oil to fry in, maximum. Use an oil with a higher smoke point, like canola, peanut, safflower, or (heaven forbid) lard. Pre-heat the oil on medium-high (you may need to turn down later if it’s smoking a lot). Keep an eye on the oil, and test the heat by placing your hand about two inches above the oil – when it starts to get uncomfortably hot, test the oil with a drop of batter – does the batter just sink sadly (not ready), or does it quickly sizzle and float? When you believe the oil’s ready, drop a tester slice in and see how it does. When it cools, taste it, and modify your methods as needed.