Turnip Recipes

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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.

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Rutabagas & Turnips

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Growing up in Vermont, I’m no stranger to turnips and their sweeter, yellower counterpart, rutabagas. They could practically be the State Vegetable. They are a great winter storage crop which generations of Vermonters have relied upon to bring them through the long winters. There is an annual festival for the gilfeather turnip, which is a relative of rutabaga, almost a hybrid. People “turn up” by the hundreds in the chilly autumn air…

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Yes, those turnips in the foreground are bigger than the heads of the women in the background.

Rutabagas are a great source of vitamins C & B-6, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Turnips have slightly smaller amounts of the same nutrients. Earthy and sweet with a distinct radish-like bite, I can understand that it’s an acquired taste. But for me it’s a fondly familiar, comforting presence at fall & winter harvest meals like Thanksgiving.

But for most of the rest of the country, as our great First Lady Michelle Obama once said, “Turnip what?!” After moving south to Virginia, I naively realized that I was not in “Kansas” anymore. Turnips were that bitter vegetable used only as a last resort. People argue that there’s no difference between turnips and rutabagas! Blasphemy! Rutabagas were nere to be found, a rat-tailed shadow of its full body grown up north, a true cold-weather crop. Even in supermarkets, I’ve never been able to find a rutabaga bigger than a softball; almost unrecognizable to someone used to them being football, or even volleyball sized, covered in a thick layer of wax.

The wax is not the only part needing peeling – the tough, woody skin is usually about a millimeter thick. Pare it clean off, watching for any remaining woody bits, and rinse. First attack it in half, for easier handling of the large rocky vegetable.

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Mashed Rutabaga with Maple

Cut into strips, then into half-inch cubes. Place in a pot with water to cover, and boil until very tender, about half an hour to an hour. Drain the water, and add pats of butter to melt on the cubes. Mash with a drizzle of real maple syrup, salt, & fresh-cracked black pepper.

Rutabaga fries

Cut into french fry sized strips, toss with oil & salt, bake at 350 until crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside, about 40 minutes.

A few years ago when I used to home-brew wines, I made some rutabaga mead using the cooking water, honey, and champagne yeast. The smell was… pungent. Let’s just say that it could not be kept in the house for more than two days while brewing. It was banished to the basement for a year after the smelly fermentation stage was over. I rediscovered it almost accidentally, having banished the memory of the smell from my brain as well. “Oh no, this,” I thought, having flashbacks to the dreaded stink. But I was pleasantly surprised that the smell had mostly vanished, leaving a more beer-like smell. After racking it for another month, it tasted like a vodka made from rutabagas instead of potatoes (so, weird, but strong). A fun experiment, but not one that I recommend.