If You Hate Turnips, Sweet Baby Turnips May Surprise You

published Jun 24, 2015
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Turnips are ancient — one of the oldest cultivated root crops in the world. Sadly, they acquired a bad rap somewhere along the way. For far too long, they were over-steamed or boiled until their sweetness and wonderful texture leached out of them. Large, overgrown turnips that come late in the fall and store through the winter haven’t helped. They have given turnips a reputation for being bitter and fibrous. (Poor turnips.)

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Turnips, a member of the mustard family, actually have a wonderful peppery bite that mellows when cooked. Right now, you’ll find smooth and glossy, white baby turnips that are quite sweet. If you need to kick-start your love for turnips, these are the ones you want to get your hands on — now!

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Also called Tokyo turnips, baby turnips are beautiful, tender little globes with spicy, pleasant-bitter greens attached. (You can and should eat those delicious greens, too.) Baby turnips are available in the spring and early summer before prolonged heat turns turnips bitter and woody. These spring and early summer turnips have delicate, shiny skins and tender flesh.

What to Do with Tokyo Turnips

You don’t even need to peel them. Cut baby turnips into wedges and enjoy them raw with a dip or shave them into a salad. Pickle them in a sweet and salty brine. Sauté or stir-fry baby turnips with their greens. (They cook quickly!) I love to dice them and throw them into vegetable fried rice. Sauté them whole or in wedges with butter and a spoonful of white miso until they are tender and glazed. Toss baby turnips with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and any other seasonings that you wish, then roast or grill them until just tender. Enjoy them after roasting or grilling as is, or toss them with a mustard and summer herb vinaigrette. Steam baby turnips in wedges (until just tender) along with their greens, and drizzle them with brown butter or a good olive oil to finish. Layer thin slices of turnips, their greens, and potatoes, then bake them into a creamy gratin.

Above all, try my sweet and sour pan-roasted turnip recipe. It is my favorite early summer turnip preparation — a unique and tasty alternative to skillet potatoes. Serve the turnips with a meal made up of seasonal sides and spreads. They are also fantastic served solo over rice, mixed with quinoa and braised turnip greens, or alongside an omelet. Serve the skillet turnips with burgers or anything just off the grill.

Cara Mangini’s Sweet and Sour Pan-Roasted Turnips

In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup water, 3 tablespoons honey, and 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add about 2 pounds turnips (cut into wedges or 3/4-inch dice). Generously season the turnips with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes until they begin to lightly brown. Add the vinegar mixture, and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 6 to 9 minutes until they are tender, browned, and slightly crisp on the edges. Transfer the turnips to a serving bowl. Finish them with a sprinkle of flaked sea salt and fresh chives. (Sauté or steam the greens separately and serve them alongside the pan-roasted turnips, or add them to the pan to cook just after you incorporate the vinegar mixture.)

→ Turnip Tips: Choose turnips that are firm and smooth with no soft spots, blemishes, cracks, or shriveling. Try to buy baby turnips with their greens attached and make sure they are fresh-looking, bright, and crisp. If greens are attached to the roots, remove them as soon as you get them home, leaving about one inch of greens attached to the root. Wrap the greens in a barely damp towel and place them in a storage bag in the refrigerator. Store roots separately in an open storage bag. If turnip stems and ribs are tender, you do not need to remove them from the greens.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)