True story: An old farmer looked around the field and stooped over to pull a turnip straight from the ground. With a wizened hand, he twisted off the leafy green top and brushed the dirt off the root. He lifted the freshly picked turnip to his mouth, bit into the bright white and purple flesh and smiled—as if it were the juiciest apple in the world. Who knew a lowly turnip could be so loved!
Often overshined by the buttery taste of swiss chard, the cloying, candied sweetness of carrots and the engrained reputation of potatoes, the turnip is one of the most versatile yet underappreciated natural foods. High in vitamins, minerals and fiber, the majority of consumers probably don’t realize the goldmine of goodness this underdog vegetable has to offer.
An easy-to-grow Florida crop, both the greens and the root of the turnip are edible, and offer a peppery taste to any dish. Turnip greens can be cooked like collard greens but with a much shorter cook time. To eat them southern-style, add some pork fat flavoring while you’re cooking them. You can use the greens in soups and stews as well for color and healthy eating.
The tuber roots of turnips are the magic beans. You can peel, slice and dice them to cook with the greens. Chop them up and add them to your stews in lieu of potatoes. Or peel them and boil them alone and mash with butter, salt and pepper for a healthier version of mashed potatoes. The younger turnips can be treated like radishes. Wash and slice them thin or julienne and add to salads and stir-fry.
Try these two different recipes from one delicious and multi-faceted vegetable:
Southern Style Turnip Greens
Turnip greens are hard to clean, but they have to be pristine or you may end up with a mouthful of dirt. Whether you are buying them fresh or using your own straight from the garden, wash them well. And then wash them again. These greens are a southern delicacy. And a true Sunday southern meal is not complete without a steaming plate of fresh greens at the table.
Remove the tuber roots from the greens for this recipe—but don’t throw them out! Wash them off and set them aside for later.
- ½ pound salt pork
- 2 tablespoons bacon grease
- 2 cups water
- 3 bunches turnips, roots and tops washed clean twice with about 1 ½ gallons of water
- Pinch of sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
Boil the salt pork in a pot for about 30 minutes with the bacon fat and enough water to cover. › Add the chopped greens, cover pot and cook for another 30 minutes. › It will seem like a lot of greens but they will cook down and you do not want them too soupy. › Add a pinch of sugar (if necessary) and salt and pepper to taste.
Peel and dice the turnip roots and add to the greens while they are cooking for a full-use turnip recipe.
Turnip & Spinach Salad
Sometimes our Florida weather is too hot for cooking—yet we are surrounded by our fall and winter vegetable bounty. This salad is a good dish to make during those times. Use a mandolin to shave the vegetables paper thin if you can.
- 3 young turnup roots, about 1 cup peeled and shaved thin
- ¼ cup red onion, sliced thin
- ¼ cup red pepper strips
- ¼ cup toasted almonds
- 1 tablespoon Chinese parsley (cilantro)
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted
- ¼ cup Asian dressing (recipe follows)
- 4 cups baby spinach
Mix everything well (except the spinach) in a bowl and let sit for about 2 to 3 minutes to marinate. › Then toss with the spinach, saving a little for the top after dividing onto two plates.
- ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
- ¼ cup dark balsamic
- 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated
- 1 teaspoon garlic, freshly minced
- 1 tablespoons sesame oil
- ½ cup peanut oil
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together well.