Written by Michelle Kish
Click here for Putting Down Roots Part 1: Radishes
If you grew up in the south, you probably have eaten a turnip or two. Generally harvested at 3-5 inches in diameter, turnips have a white bottom root with a purple top ring near the leaves. This outer skin is often peeled when prepared revealing the pure white flesh inside. Turnips are a low-calorie vegetable that contain dietary fiber and are fairly high in vitamin C. They are a cold weather food and in South Texas will start to appear at farmers’ markets in late fall through winter. Turnips become sweeter after a light freeze.
Smaller, more tender turnip varieties are becoming popular at farmers’ markets, too. The most common of these is the Tokyo or Japanese White turnip, a smaller pure white turnip with a sweeter flesh. Young roots can be eaten raw in salads. If the roots are too large to be eaten raw, they can be cooked as would the more common purple top. On occasion, other small or young turnip varieties are available in a range of solid colors like yellow, red or purple. These can also be used raw or cooked as with the Tokyo.
On a related note, you may have also seen a rutabaga or two floating around a store or a farmers’ market. More common in Europe than America, rutabagas are actually a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. They are larger than purple top turnips, their flesh is more yellow tinted than white and they almost always have a sweeter taste. In regards to cooking, the same recipes are interchangeable with turnips and rutabagas.
There’s a variety of ways to use turnips and their greens:
Roasted Root Vegetables – Turnips are most commonly roasted with shallots or onions but can be combined with a wide variety of roots. Toss the roots in butter or oil and sprinkle with sage or rosemary and roast until tender (stirring once or twice), salt and pepper to taste. Try roasting with beets, carrots, parsnips or other roots to add color and variety.
Mashed Turnips – Prepare turnips as you would mashed potatoes: peel and cube, boil until tender, mash with butter, milk and desired spices. If the turnips are too bitter for your taste, try mixing half potatoes/half turnips. For an added garlic flavor, boil garlic cloves with the turnips and mash together.
Turnip Fries – Peel and cut turnips into small French Fry-like portions. Toss in oil and roll in desired spices. Bake until the inside is tender and the outsides just begin to crisp. A common trick to ease the bitter taste in turnip fries is to roll in parmesan cheese before baking.
Turnip Greens – Don’t forget your greens! Turnip greens are edible and nutritious. Young greens can be used raw in salads or wraps, but you’re more likely to find the larger greens at markets or stores. These can be boiled down in stock with a pinch of sugar and some spices for a hearty side (try adding red pepper flakes for a kick) or sauté with onions and garlic and finish with fresh squeezed lemon juice. Looking to add some greens to your breakfast? Try cooking turnip greens into an egg scramble or frittata or make a turnip green and potato hash to top with over-easy eggs.
These are only some of the uses of turnips and their tops. Like most roots, they are an often overlooked but versatile food.