Appreciating Turnips, Your Winter Soul Food
Here in the snowy hinterlands, I sometimes try to imagine living here before central heating. Frigid winds blast across the sinuous banks of deep snow, blasting cold right into your bones. Somehow, people surived here.
And I, with my high-tech ski jacket and fleece gloves, shiver bitterly as I sprint from my warm house to the car. I suppose I could have coped in the way back days, with help from my friends and family, to chop wood and build shelter.
But what would you eat in Minnesota in January?
Before produce was trucked in from California and Mexico, a person would have had to rely on a root cellar to survive. If you have never seen a root cellar, it’s kind of like a bomb shelter, but with a dirt floor and shelves. Basically, a hole was dug in the ground and a little walk-in fridge was created, and the earth around the space was a natural insulator, so it stayed above freezing. Since your root cellar was the ultimate DIY project, you might trick yours out with a planked floor and wooden steps, and a nice heavy wooden door. Hungry animals were looking for food, so it needed to be secure.
So, back in the day, you would have grown, dug and stored a stash of roots in that cellar. Potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, the whole tuber canon. But a really good keeper would have been turnips.
Turnips are Brassicas, close cousins of broccoli, kale, cauliflower and other “It” vegetables. Like all the brassicas, turnips pack a hefty dose of antioxidants and anti-cancer chemicals in their humble package. The whole family blows away other vegetables with high levels of Vitamin A, Carotenoids, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Folic Acid and Fiber. Cheap, easy to grow, and easy to store all winter long, turnips would have been a valuable asset when the salad patch was frozen solid.
So why do the kales, the cauliflowers get all the attention? I’d venture to say that we aren’t giving the turnip a sexy enough presentation. Sure, throw some in soup, roast it with a mix of parsnips and carrots, all those are delicious. My Coop carries a nice assortment of turnips and they are worthy of a few different techniques.
So, I decided to boil the golden turnips and puree them for a sauce, and then cut the purple tops into “fries” and roast them. For a zingy counterpoint, I made a quick pickle of the scarlet ones. All the turnips have a bit of spicy, mustardy flavor to them, and I’d say that the purple top is the mildest. The scarlets have a radishy kick to the brilliant skin, which works perfectly in a spicy pickle to eat alongside the “fries” or tuck in sandwiches like Banh Mie.
So if you have a New Years resolution to eat more vegetables, you can’t go wrong by exploring the humble turnip.
Turnip “Fries” with Turnip-Parsley Cream and Spicy Pickled Turnips
2 large purple top turnips
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 medium golden turnips
1/2 cup parsley
1/4 cup coconut milk or cream, to taste
salt and pepper
2 medium scarlet turnips
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Peel and slice the purple top turnips into french fry-sized strips, about 1/2 inch across at the most. Drizzle a teaspoon of the canola oil over a sheet pan and rub it around, then put the rest in a large bowl. Add the turnip slices, paprika and a few pinches of salt, then toss to coat. Spread ont he oiled sheet pan and roast for 25 minutes, shaking the pan and turning the pieces at the halfway mark. Keep warm.
While the turnips roast, peel and cube the golden turnips, and put in a pan with water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until tender when pierced with a paring knife. Drain and put in the blender or processor with the parsley. Blend to puree, adding enough coconut mil or cream to make a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.
For the pickle, lightly peel the scarlet turnips (to save the red color) and shred with the large holes on the grater. Place in a heat safe bowl. In a small pot, stir the cider vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil over high heat, and stir until the sugar is dissolved, but not longer than a minute or two. Pour the hot liquid over the shredded turnips and stir to mix. Let stand until time to serve- at least 10 minutes.
Serve turnip “fries” with turnip cream and a side of pickled turnips.