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Get the local dirt in our northwest corner

Turnip time

May 2nd, 2013 | Category: Cooking

by Jessamyn Tuttle

The first farmer’s markets in early spring are frequently a little monotonous: greens, radishes, some more greens, asparagus if you’re lucky, and probably quite a few bunches of what look like huge white radishes, but are actually Japanese turnips. If your idea of a turnip is the big spicy purple-topped variety sold in grocery stores, Japanese turnips (also called salad turnips) will be a revelation. Not meant for winter storage, they are very crisp and fresh tasting, and the tops are much more delicate than the bunches of mustardy turnip greens usually sold in stores. Popular varieties like Hakurei or Tokyo seem to do remarkably well in the western Washington climate (although like all root crops, precautions need to be taken to prevent bug infestations). Like many people, when I first saw them I had no idea what to do with them, and began keeping my ears open when talking to local chefs and farmers.

Sichuan beef with turnips. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Because Japanese turnips are so mild, they can be eaten raw like radishes, sliced thinly into salads or onto sandwiches, or you can finely julienne them, toss with vinegar or lime juice and use as a garnish on tacos or Vietnamese spring rolls. Steve Crider, who provided me with his wife Ayako’s recipe for Japanese quick-pickled turnips, wrote this: “I would NOT recommend trying to substitute our purple top western turnip in [this] recipe – a totally different animal! The Japanese white turnips are so much milder, sweeter, delicate in flavor – both fresh & cooked – that there is no comparison.” However, if you can find western turnips that are very young and fresh, they will still work well for roasting and braising.

Several Skagit-area chefs have told me that they love to sauté fresh local Japanese turnips in butter, then throw the leaves into the pan as well, serving both parts together. The leaves can be eaten raw, but I prefer them cooked by themselves or with other greens. Bacon is a nice addition as well.

As with all root vegetables, it’s hard to go wrong with roasting. Cut into pieces, toss with olive oil and salt, and throw them into a hot oven until they are as done as you like. The longer they stay in, the crisper and sweeter they will be. I love to do several pans of different vegetables, then mix them all in a bowl for serving. It’s colorful, sweet and healthful.

Japanese turnip. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Turnips are good with cream and butter, either by themselves or combined with potatoes, but prepared simply they’re also a good companion vegetable to rich-tasting meats like duck, rabbit and pork. I find that, like radishes, they go really well with spicy or savory Asian cuisine of all sorts. During the winter and early spring I often braise beef or pork with Chinese seasonings (called red-cooking) and some diced turnip or daikon radish is a wonderful addition to balance out the salty, meaty flavors. The vegetable also serves to soak up some of the sauce, especially once it has a chance to sit.

Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Sichuan beef with turnips

I love Sichuan chile-bean paste and go through a lot of it, but if you can’t find it or would prefer to omit it, skip that step. Instead, when you put the beef and other ingredients into the pot, add 6 Tbsp sugar and some dried red chile flakes to taste, then bump up the amount of soy sauce to 6 Tbsp. Like most braises, this is even better the next day.

Ingredients

3 pounds short ribs or stewing beef

1″ piece of ginger, cut into a few thick slices

3 scallions, trimmed and cut into large pieces

3 Tbsp peanut oil

6 Tbsp Sichuan chile bean paste (available at Asian groceries)

1 quart stock or water

4 Tbsp rice wine or sherry

2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp whole Sichuan pepper

1 star anise

1 pound young turnips (or daikon radish or rutabaga), peeled and diced

Directions

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot and add the bean paste. Stir fry until the oil turns red and it smells great, then add the beef, ginger, scallions, stock, wine, soy and spices. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer for 2 hours or more, until the beef is tender. If a great deal of liquid remains in the pot, take off the lid and turn up the heat to reduce it. Add the turnips near the end, letting them cook until tender, about 15 minutes.

You can serve the beef immediately, or refrigerate it, take some of the fat off and reheat the next day. Serve with rice or noodles and a green vegetable.

Turnips with bacon and greens

Ingredients

½ pound young turnips with their

greens

2 strips of bacon

salt and pepper

Directions

Cut bacon into strips, sauté in a nonstick skillet until crispy, then remove the bacon pieces and set aside. In the bacon fat, sauté diced turnip until fork-tender, then add the greens and continue to cook until they are wilted. Season with plenty of pepper, toss the crispy bacon pieces back in, and serve.

Roasted turnips

Ingredients

½ pound Japanese or other turnips

1 Tbsp olive oil

½ tsp kosher salt

Directions

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Peel the turnips unless they’re very young and tender, otherwise simply wash and trim them and cut into chunks and spread out in a baking dish (if the turnips are touching each other in the pan they’re too close – get a larger pan). Drizzle olive oil over the top and toss the turnips in the oil to coat them. Sprinkle with coarse salt and put the pan in the oven. Check after 15 minutes, when they will have begun to soften, and take out when they are as done as you want – I like them after 30 minutes, when they will be intensely sweet and caramelized.

Kabu no Shio Momi

(Japanese style fresh turnip pickle)

Recipe courtesy of Ayako Okon and Steve Crider. This dish is used as a small salad or appetizer with a Japanese meal. It’s a great accompaniment with rice and main dishes – crunchy and refreshing.

Ingredients

1 bunch Japanese white Turnips (kabu), very thinly sliced

½ English Cucumber, or approx equal amount as turnips, very thinly sliced

1 teaspoon fine salt (to taste, but need a good amount)

Turnip greens (if tender and in good condition), finely chopped

Ginger, small piece about ½ thumb size, minced or chopped fine

Optional: ½ to 1 teaspoon Lemon Juice at end

Directions

Cut all the vegetables, leaves, ginger as noted above and mix together. Add salt and mix thoroughly by hand, gently squeezing the mixture to incorporate the salt, and allow to wilt. Let stand about 15 minutes.

After standing, pour off the excess water that has been released. Add lemon juice and serve.

Left over Shio Momi can keep for a day or two in the fridge.

Variations:  When in season, use some green shiso leaf as well, or in place of the turnip greens.  Or, a small amount of ume-boshi (Japanese pickled plum) can be incorporated as an alternative flavoring as well.

Published in the May 2013 issue of Grow Northwest

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