Ok, it was never my intention for the Vegetable Therapist posts to be a source of terrible, terrible puns, but as it happens, vegetables lend themselves to them too well to resist. Rather than continue to apologize, I’ve decided to revel in it.
Additionally, you may have noticed that you get not one, but TWO installments of VT this month. I figured that since we missed December, we’d cram some additional vegetables into January. There’s also the not-so-secret fact that winter vegetables are some of my favorites, and I’d like to make these posts as seasonal as possible. So you get two roots for the price of one!
Speaking of which, turnips, like many of their Brassica family brethren, provide two vegetables for the price of one – the root, which is what we are most likely to think of, and the leaves, which are a lovely, peppery green similar to mustard greens in taste. They’re also highly nutritious, so if you happen into some whole turnips, don’t throw those tops away! Use them in your favorite greens recipe – I’m personally a big fan of simply sauteed until tender with some garlic and a good amount of salt and pepper, but get as fancy as you like.
However, the person who asked for help in liking turnip was, I believe, referring to the roots, and it’s easy to understand why. Turnips are often treated like a lesser potato – usually boiled and mashed and served with some butter and boring, boring, boring. What flavor they do have can take some getting used to – a faint pungency similar to that of its cousins horseradish and mustard. However, they’re worth learning to love – low-calorie, high-fiber, and packed with vitamin C and smaller amounts of folate, calcium, and potassium. Cooked they lose that whiff of sulfur and become a nice addition to your root vegetable repertoire.
I wanted to find a recipe that went beyond boiling and mashing. Here’s a recipe for turnip gratin that sounds intriguing, but wasn’t quite what I wanted. For one, it’s still turnip as a stand-in for potato, for another, the amount of cheese and heavy cream rather negates the health benefits and seems like cheating – what couldn’t you eat if I slathered it in cheese sauce first? My mind was already wandering in the direction of braised and glazed when I came across this! The braising and glazing renders them sweet and tender, while the vinaigrette plays nicely with that mustardy taste, turning it into an asset as opposed to a detriment.
Aren’t the little poppy seeds cute? They’re the only ingredient in the recipe you might not have just lying around the house, but I recommend getting them – they add a little pop and crunch that shouldn’t be missed.
One last fun turnip fact – while the rutabaga is very closely related, it is not precisely turnip, but a cross between a turnip and a cabbage! I personally find them a bit sweeter and less sulfurous. They are popularly used as jack-o-lanterns in Britain and Ireland, and when I was a wee kid, I was obsessed with Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories, a totally amazing book of “American fairy-tales” that had some rather haunting ideas. You can download them here, if you’re curious about the stories that shaped my childhood. They may explain a lot.