Saturday, June 27, 2015

Turnips 101

The turnip is part of the Brassica rapa which belongs to the mustard family. They are related to the mizuna, napa cabbage, cime de rapa annual turnip rapa. They are grown in temperate climates for their white bulbous taproot. The turnip leaves are edible as well and the flavor can be likened to mustard greens. There are two kinds of turnips; a small slender varietal for human consumption and larger varieties that are grown for livestock feed. The most common turnips are white but a small portion, approximately 1-6 centimeters grows above ground and can be purple, red or greenish. The interiors are always completely white. The turnip root can weigh up to 1 kilo but are mostly harvested when they are smaller and the size is often related directly to the varietal. Most small turnips (referred to as baby turnips) are a special variety that are often yellow, orange, red fleshed and of course white. They are mild in flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. They are mild in flavor and similar to a radish. Salad turnips are often referred to as Hakurei Turnips or Japanese Turnips. They are called Salad Turnips to differentiate them from other storage turnips. They are white and the size of golf balls. They taste amazing raw and are slightly sweet and juicy. Salad turnips can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves are edible as well.

Domestication of the turnip appears to be before the 15th century. It is native to Central Asia, the Mediterranean and to the Near East. In England sales records of turnips date back to the 16th century. Turnips were grown in India for their oil-bearing seeds and was an established crop in Greek and Roman times. Turnips were massively consumed in Germany during WWI when meat and potatoes were scarce. They used turnip flour to make bread. The winter period of 1916 -1917, one of the harshest years of WWI, became known as the “Turnip Winter” do to a poor potato crop leading Germans to turn to the turnip for food.  In England the smaller white vegetable is called a turnip and the larger yellow is called Swedes. In the United States the Swedes are called rutabagas.

Turnips grow best in cool climates and are typically planted in the Spring in the Northern US and Canada. They are a bi-annual plant that can take up to 2 years from germination to reproduction. The first year of growing is the storage of nutrients in the roots and the 2nd year the plant flowers, produces seeds and eventually dies. Most varietals can be grown for harvest in 60 days though. There are 30 varieties of turnips that can be found around the world today.

Here are some fun facts about turnips. Turnip lanterns are an old tradition from the time of the original Halloween festivals in Scotland and Ireland. The turnips are carved hollow and are used for candle lanterns. When this old custom came to the United States, the jack-o-lantern was then carved out of a pumpkin not a turnip.

To Store

Refrigerate unwashed turnip roots in a plastic bag or container. They should keep for anywhere from 1 week to 2 weeks. If you plan on using the tops, cut off the leaves, bag them separately and refrigerate for use within a few days. You can freeze turnips for later use. Wash, peel, slice and place in pot of water that just covers them. Bring the water just to the boiling point, then drain water off. Dump them into a sink of very cold water, then drain again, pack in freezer bags or container and freeze.

To Nourish

Turnips are very low calorie root vegetable, just 36 calories per cup.  They are good source of anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins and dietary fiber. Turnip root provides a rich source of vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin that also contributes to the health of your bones and skin. It also helps the body scavenge harmful free radicals, prevention from cancers, inflammation, and helps boost immunity. One cup of turnip contains 27 milligrams of vitamin C, 36 and 30 percent of the recommended daily intake for women and men, respectively. Turnip also boosts your intake of vitamins B-2, B-3, B-9, E and K. It also contains the minerals magnesium and potassium, both essential to muscle function, as well as phosphorus and zinc.

Turnip greens are the storehouse of many vital nutrients. The green tops compose of many minerals and vitamins several times more than that in the roots. The greens are very good source of antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, arotenoid, xanthin, and lutein.  In addition, they are also a very good source of B-complex group of vitamins such as folates, riboflavin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid and thiamin and also an excellent source of important minerals like calcium, copper, iron, potassium, and manganese.

To Prepare 

To prepare turnip roots for use, wash, top them and trim any hairy roots off, then peel. If you have very young turnips (they will be very small, about the size of golf balls, then you can get away without peeling. Older turnips must be peeled.) Then chop or slice depending on what you are going to do with them. While eating turnip raw will not harm your health, you might find the root more palatable after it has been cooked. Young, small turnips have tender flesh that tastes pleasant when eaten raw, but these turnips' short harvesting season and rapid growth rate means that many turnips you find at the grocery store taste bitter until they are cooked. Turnips are best cooked in enamel or stainless steel pots as the turnip may interact with aluminium or iron pots and go dark. Turnip is quite uninteresting on its own, but is very good combined with other vegetables such as parsnip, carrot and potato, either mashed with cream and cheese, or diced with butter. Turnips can be prepared many ways: boiled, steamed, roasted, stir-fried and even microwaved. For ideas on what to do with Salad Turnips go here.

To Try

Pickled Turnips

Turnip Blueberry Muffins (Gluten Free)

To Use

Looking for more recipes for all the Brassicas that you receive each week in your veggie share including kale, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, turnips, mustard greens, rutabaga, spinach, and more! Well, check out Laura Russell's book,
Brassicas: Cooking the World's Healthiest Vegetables: Kale, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and More. The book includes 80 inventive recipes in Brassicas that play to each vegetable’s strengths, favoring techniques that celebrate their intrinsic flavors instead of masking them under layers of cheese or boiling them to death. Think of the inherent sweetness that can be coaxed from perfectly roasted Brussels sprouts, or the bright, peppery punch of a watercress and arugula salad. (Barnes & Noble, $15.33)