Turnips. The often forgotten sibling of its more esteemed family members, mizuna, bok choy, Napa cabbage and tatsoi along with a handful of others. All share the same scientific name, Brassica rapa, which means they are essentially the same plant. This is also the case with its cousin, Brassica oleracea, that includes a bevy of favorites: kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli romanesco, collard greens, kohlrabi and brussels sprouts.
Both groups are the result of careful, horticultural skill and breeding from which we reap the benefit — a plethora of savory, pungent goodness packed with nutrition.
Grow Your Own
- Prepare a bed of rich, well draining organic soil and plan to water regularly for an optimal harvest.
- Add a top dressing of compost with each season and consider a green manure or other, protective mulch in winter to prepare and maintain robust soil.
- Direct sow seeds or transplant from seedlings. Turnips are not fussy and generally germinate easily. Presoak seeds to shorten the time between planting and sprouting. I like to mix liquid seaweed with water when presoaking. See Transplanting Seedlings Vs Direct Sowing Seeds.
- Sow seeds about 1/4 inch deep and 2 inches apart.
- Thin seedlings if crowded by simply trimming the greens and adding them to your salad or meal.
- Keep weeds at bay by tending regularly.
- Try a few varieties and see what works best for you. Consider an Asian variety like the ones shown — ‘Tokyo Market’ or ‘Tokyo Cross Hybrid’. They mature quickly and can be sown every few weeks from February to August depending on climate.
- Harvest at any time. Eat the shoots, leaves and root. I prefer the root when they’re smaller, about 2 inches across (30 to 40 days from seeding), but they’re still great when 4 inches across (60 days or more from seeding).
- You’ll find when you grow turnips yourself the skins of the roots are soft and don’t require peeling (as with most of the options at the market).
- The greens are amazing, another bonus to growing them yourself. It can be nearly impossible to find a turnip with greens at the grocery, though a possibility at your local farmer’s market.
- Turnips are loaded with vitamins and fiber and are low in calories. They’re an excellent source of vitamins A, K, C, B6, folate, E and calcium. They also contain potassium, B2 and a range of micronutrients. Bottom line, they’re good for you.
I have two favorites.
One, sauté garlic in olive oil. Add chopped turnips and continue sautéing until the roots are tender. Reduce heat, toss in washed turnip greens and cook until wilted (just a minute or two). Add to any meal or consider it a side dish.
Two, soup. Any soup but I especially love this recipe:
Turnip Soup with Greens
What You’ll Need:
- 4 – 6 medium turnips (about 1 1/2 lbs) with greens
- 2 Tbs butter or olive oil
- 2 leeks (white part only) or 1 onion or large shallot
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 to 3 potatoes, washed and chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme or 1 tsp fresh thyme
- 6 cups vegetable broth or water or a mix of the two
- 1/2 cup milk
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup Gruyère or hard cheese like parmesan
What to Do:
- Wash and chop into cubes about 1 inch thick. Peel first if you must.
- Heat oil or butter in a soup pot. Add turnips, leeks or onions, potatoes, garlic, parsley and thyme. Cook about 5 minutes.
- Add 1 tsp salt, broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
- Remove from heat.
- Chop turnip greens coarsely and wash, leaving heavy with water. Wilt in a sauce pan until they turn bright green (again, just a minute or two). The water on the leaves should be enough to cook them but if not add a dash more to keep them from sticking. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Ladle 1/2 of the soup into a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth.
- Combine the 50/50 mixture of pureed soup and chunky soup back into the soup pot. Stir in the greens. Heat gently before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste and cheese as a garnish. Serve over toasted, multigrain bread or with croutons (optional).
- Serves 6 so I always double the recipe because leftovers are the best.
*Recipe adapted from Deborah Madison