The turnip is not a sexy vegetable. While plump, multi-hued tomatoes draw the eye and bright green snap peas beckon, the white knobby turnip lacks an aesthetic quality. Even the name evokes a tragic Russian novel, a pot of thin soup and a piece of stale bread. (It’s no coincidence that the turnip is a staple in England and Northern Europe.)
I might have gone right on ignoring this root vegetable had I not overheard a farmer trumpet the glory of turnips at my local farmers market. He was so convincing that I walked away with two bunches and a recipe idea.
Turnips may look boring (and tasteless, and generally unappealing) but steam them for eight minutes and add a pinch of two of good salt, a cracking of fresh pepper and the love affair just might begin. They have a nice refreshing bite, similar to a radish, and an earthy-sweet flavor reminiscent of fresh horseradish. While I savored them on their own, I couldn’t help but imagine a dish of braised short ribs or slow-cooked pork shoulder alongside. The acidic bite of a turnip is a perfect contrast to stewed meat.
I tried two varieties, the standard turnip and the smaller Tokyo turnip, an heirloom variety. The large standard turnip is white with a pinkish-purplish color at the top, and the Tokyo is a small white turnip that resembles a radish. The smaller variety offers a great raw crunch in salads. The French lamb and turnip stew Navarin is a classic dish that highlights this humble veggie. And like most root veggies, if you smother them with cream and cheese you’ve got a tasty gratin. Steam and smash them and add any flavoring: butter, horseradish, or even a handful of crispy bacon bits.
A few tips for your first turnip purchase: Choose hard turnips with bright green tops. Scrub and peel large turnips before you cook them. The Tokyo turnip doesn’t need to be peeled; just scrub with a vegetable brush. Don’t confuse turnips with yellow turnips, which are actually rutabagas. Turnips are available year-round but their peak season is October through March. Large turnips will last up to two weeks in the refrigerator, but use the smaller ones within two days.
Mashed Potatoes and Turnips With Horseradish
Serves 8 to 10
Until you are committed to the flavor of turnips (or are trying to convince someone else), combining them with potatoes is a good place to start. The addition of fresh horseradish boosts the turnip flavor. This would be the perfect side dish to a prime rib dinner.
1¼ pounds turnips
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
¾ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons drained bottled horseradish, patted dry between paper towels
- Peel potatoes and turnips and then cut them into 2-inch pieces.
- Cover potatoes, turnips and 2 teaspoons salt with 2 inches of cold water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are tender, about 16 minutes.
- Drain vegetables in a colander, then return to pot and mash.
- Stir in the milk, butter, horseradish and scallions over low heat until combined well and heated through.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
1 pound = 4 cups, chopped
2 turnips = 1 serving
Zester Daily contributor Laura Holmes Haddad lives with her husband, daughter and son in Northern California, where she writes about wine and food and runs her website, gourmetgrrl.com. Her latest collaboration is “Plats du Jour: A Journey Through the Seasons in Wine Country” with the girl & the fig restaurant in Sonoma, Calif., released in November 2011.
Photos: Tokyo turnips, left, and standard turnips.
Credit: Laura Holmes Haddad