Turnips are Sexy

I don’t think I’d ever had turnips until a few weeks ago, when inspired by Vivian Howard’s fabulous cookbook Deep Run Roots I picked up some baby turnips at the farmer’s market. They were unbelievably delicious and really easy to cook. Every week since I’ve picked up bunches of the little gems and they are one of the first things that get eaten.

I’m not the only one who thinks turnips are fantastic. Bon Appetit magazine did a whole section on turnip recipes. You can find it online by clicking here. Yes, turnips are so trendy and hot they are featured in Bon Appetit. Makes me feel young and hip eating my turnips.

There’s good reason for turnips turning up on menus all over the country. They are mildly peppery and a little sweet at the same time, and they cook quickly with very little fuss. And the greens are so delicious. Not too bitter, with a great flavor and texture. Plus, they are free with the turnips!

turnips from the Farmer's Market

Be sure to buy turnips that are about the size of a golf ball with the greens attached and looking pretty good. The big ones can be pithy – woody and too sharp. The all white ones (in the picture) are Hakurei turnips, a variety that is sweeter and a little more tender than the traditional purple-top turnip. When you buy them small, both varieties are tender, mild and really good. These are straight from the farmer’s market, so you can see what they look like – small roots and tender greens.

Turnips offer a lot of nutrition for very few calories.

One whole cup of cooked, mashed turnips only has about 50 calories (a cup of white potato has 200). They are a good source of vitamin C, fiber and potassium. The greens are a great source of vitamins A, C, E and K, fiber, potassium, calcium and manganese. They fill us up and satisfy without filling us out.

If your turnips come from the farmers market you will need to wash them well. I fill up my sink with water, plunge the turnips in, swish them around, then pull them out, drain the water, and do it all again two more times. It seems like a hassle but its really pretty quick and gets rid of the sand and soil that clings to the turnip roots. If you’re buying them at at the grocery store a good rinse is sufficient.   Kwik Kut chopper

Pull off any yellow or shriveled leaves. You can braise the roots and greens together, still attached, and when they are tender chop them all together. Southerners use a Kwik Kut collard cutter, and now I do too. (Yes, I love turnips so much I bought a special cutter for them. Thank you Amazon.) Or you can cut the stems off about 1/2 inch or so above the turnip and cook them separately. I’ve cooked them both ways and like them equally.

Here’s how you do it:

The simplest cooking method:

  • Buy one bunch of turnips per person for a substantial side dish, add extra for a main dish.
  • Fill a pretty big pot with water. Add a link or two of sausage (Vivian Howard uses air-dried sausage but I can’t find that here, so I use Trader Joe’s Chicken Sicilian sausage and its fine) and bring it up to a boil.
  • After its been boiling about 10 minutes, add your turnips and greens and about 1 tsp of salt.
  • Its also nice to add a piece of the rind from parmesan cheese when you add the turnips. I save the rinds leftover when the cheese is gone in a ziplock bag in the freezer to add to soups. It adds complex flavor and richness.
  • Cook until the greens and turnips are tender.
  • Pull out the turnips and greens, chop up them into bite size pieces (with or without the sausage, its up to you), top with a little olive oil or butter, and enjoy.
  • The water left in the pot is called pot likker, and its delicious and very nutritious. I freeze it to use for soup, or instead of water the next time I make turnips.

My usual cooking method:

  • I prep the turnips the same way, but cut the greens off about 1/2 inch above where they meet the turnip root.
  • Cut any of the bigger turnips in half so they are all about the same size.
  • Add 1-2 TBS of olive oil to a large skillet, and heat over medium high.
  • Add two cloves of garlic, sliced or minced (minced will have a stronger taste), a pinch or two of red pepper flakes, a pinch or two of salt, and the turnips.
  • Cook over medium to medium high heat, adding a little water to the pan if the turnips start to burn.
  • When the turnips get some golden color on them, add the greens and 1-2 cups of water (or reserved pot likker from last time).
  • Cover and cook it all down until the greens are tender. Then uncover and cook until most of the water evaporates.
  • Add a squeeze of lemon juice then salt and pepper to taste. A little balsamic vinegar is nice on them too.

Roasted turnips:

  • This is a great method if you don’t have good greens, have bigger turnips. or just want a different texture. See below for how to cook the greens by themselves.
  • Wash the turnips, and trim them so that about 1/2 inch of the stems are attached at the top.
  • Halve the turnips if they are bigger than bite-sized. If they are still too large, cut into 1-inch pieces.
  • Toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  • Roast in a 425-degree oven until browned and tender, about 25 minutes. Start checking at 20 minutes to be safe.
  • Top with a squeeze of lemon juice and some balsamic vinegar and enjoy.

If you can only find big purple turnips, cook them a little longer to mellow the flavor. Turnips bigger than a baseball will never be delicious, but their greens can be. If your market has turnip greens by themselves, grab them. They are so good!

How to cook just the greens:

  • Wash the greens and trim the tough part of the stems.
  • Add 1 TBS of olive oil to a large skillet.
  • Add a whole garlic clove, or 1/2 tsp of chopped garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes and saute over medium heat until you can smell the garlic.
  • Add your greens and 1 cup of liquid (water, pot likker from the freezer, or stock are all fine).
  • Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the greens are tender.
  • Uncover and cook off the extra water.
  • Top with a squeeze of lemon juice and enjoy.

If you are one of those people who love to read cookbooks, you will really enjoy Deep Run Roots. Its a substantial book and well written. While the recipes are often not the healthiest, you will be inspired to try new vegetables and if you substitute olive oil for the lard you will be fine.

I will be branching out into rutabagas next, and fill you in on that right here.  If you have any favorite rutabaga or turnip recipes, let me know!

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