“T” is for tardy. My plan was to write about a vegetable each month but I have noticed that my I’m Strong To The Finish If I Eat My Spinach post was published in late March.
It’s almost half-way through June so I thought I’d better hop to it. “T” is for turnip.
Let’s give turnips back their self-esteem! Turnips have been around for a long time – about 4,000 years – but have not always been a popular vegetable. The Ancients (Greeks and Romans) reputedly threw turnips at unpopular figures (tomatoes not being available in these times).
This may have been influenced by the fact that turnips were the primary food of poor country folks in ancient Greece and Rome. Although a few upper class Romans ate turnips, they masked the taste by seasoning it with cumin or honey.
Photo courtesy http://www.historynotes.info
Before the arrival of the potato, turnips were one of the main sources of sustenance for the English peasantry. Turnips have an assertive spiciness and earthy flavour so it is not surprising that you find them featured in all manner of peasant dishes, stocks, soups and stews, including the classic French pot-au-feu.
It also does not help that navet (the French word for turnip) is also used to describe a theatrical flop, in much the same way turkey is used in English. Then there are those other connotations – some might associate the word turnip with a “stupid person” or “blockhead”. Turnip is also used as an adjective to describe some rather unpleasant things, such as turnip flea beetles, turnip louses and turnip weeds.
The North American turnip, which was introduced by the English, is known by the name Brassica rapa (or rutabaga). It comes in several shapes and may display one of up to half a dozen colors around the top. But according to some, such as Jonathan Franzen (the highly acclaimed US novelist), they do not possess the degree of flavor finesse of the French navet.
Consider this exquisitely complicated passage from his novel, The Corrections:
As her children construct a model penitentiary complete with electric chair of Popsicle sticks, Enid whips up “liver ‘n’ bacon” with mashed rutabagas and beet greens, a family meal abhorred by all but Enid, who appreciates the nutrition and mostly the thrift of this concoction. The oldest child, Gary, has learned to not only placate his parents for household peace’s sake, but to do so enthusiastically, gobbles up the food to get it out of sight. Enid’s middle child, Chipper, also (much to his own disadvantage) Albert’s favourite, looks on his plate and sees “the dogshit-yellow field of rutabaga; the liver warped by frying . . . the ball of woody beet leaves collapsed and contorted.” Chip realises “how his entire dinner might be scarfable in no time.” He tries, but feels “his guts convulsed in a spine-bending gag”.
Enough to put you off rutabagas, navets, turnips (or whatever you want to call them) for life? But before your make your final decision, think about the comments of those who consider the turnip to be an under appreciated root vegetable that deserves more respect.
I was raised almost entirely on turnips and potatoes, but I think that the turnips had more to do with the effect than the potatoes. Marlene Dietrich
Photo courtesy galleryhip.com
Given that Marlene Dietrich was considered one of the most beautiful women of her generation, a top Hollywood box office draw, an accomplished musician (she was a concert violinist before deciding to become an actress) and singer, I’d say the “turnip effect” was pretty good, wouldn’t you?
Photo courtesy http://www.emblibrary.com
Why not mash it up?
Turnips can be used along with celery root and parsnip as a more flavoursome variation on mashed potatoes.
Why not juice it up?
Turnip juice or – Şalgam suyu – has been the national drink in Turkey for hundreds of years, and it is very healthy. But if you are not a hard-core juicer, you might initially be put off by its strong flavour. Beginners are recommended to combine with the juice of other vegetables, such as carrots.
Those who acquire the taste find it delicious and refreshing. Not convinced? Turnip juice is known to have high concentrations of nutrients that help the body fight diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, liver and bladder problems.
It contains a lot of Vitamin C – surprisingly higher amounts than orange juice. This powerful antioxidant aids the body in clearing lung and bronchus congestion and improving blood circulation. Turnip juice can also help remove kidney stones, calms the nerves, strengthen bones and teeth and lowers the level of bad cholesterol in the body.
And if that’s not enough – turnip juice can cure body odor. By extracting the juice of turnips and rubbing it on your underarm, you can keep bad underarm odor at bay for 10 hours.
Why not add it to your soups?
Turnip, leek and potato soup – a simple French soup that works well regardless of which vegetable gets the emphasis. If you want to vary the proportions of vegetables you can; it works well whether you emphasise the turnips, as is done in this recipe, or the leeks or the potatoes. Turnips have a slightly bitter edge, and tarragon makes a lovely sweet garnish. Chives would also work. Try this turnip, leek and potato soup recipe.
Photo courtesy vintageprintable.com
Leek, turnip and rice soup – this simple, fragrant soup is delicious as thick vegetable soup, not puréed. It becomes a different soup altogether when you purée it. The choice is up to you. Try this leek, turnip and rice soup recipe.
Why not do like the Romans, and add a bit of honey?
- 1 to 2 medium-sized turnips
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup of honey
- 2/3 cups of water
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- Peel the turnips and cut into 8 to 12 wedges, depending on size
- Place wedges in a saucepan along with the butter cut up in small pieces
- Add the water, honey, salt and pepper
- Cover the pan and place over medium heat for 15 minutes
- Uncover the pan and continue to cook until water evaporates and turnips are glazed (this takes about 5 minutes)
- Shake pan occasionally
Why not try Vegan style?
Oven braised turnips prepared cut, instead of mashed, is a great way to really enjoy the true earthy flavor of turnips. It can be used as a very tasty side dish, or even eaten as a light lunch with a fresh salad. Try this oven braised turnips Vegan style recipe.
What turnip recipe will you try out first?