Friday, September 11, 2009

the turnips are coming, the turnips are coming

With the fall season fast approaching root crops are coming into season. Turnips are a great root vegetable and can be very versatile in the kitchen.

Turnips are a member of the brassica family which means they are related to cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts and others. Although there is an old fashioned tradition of cutting turnips into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, I think they are far to tasty to be put to this use; far better to eat them. One of the wonderful things about turnips is that you not only eat the root, but also the greens.

The root is a great source of fiber, calcium, potassium and is an excellent source of vitamin C. Turnip greens are high in fiber, folate, iron, vitamin C, and calcium. They are also an excellent source of manganese (an antioxidant which is important for bone health and digestion), vitamin K (important for bone health and coagulation of the blood), and Vitamin A (an antioxidant which contributes to eyesight, tissue and skin health and may help lower your risk for cancer). So all around they are an excellent choice to have in your Fall/Winter pantry. To take advantage of all of that nutritional goodness, turnips can be cooked in a variety of ways: sauteed, mashed, baked, boiled, the list goes on.

My very favorite cookbook for greens is “Greene on Greens” by the late Bert Greene who was a Food Columnist for The New York Daily News. In it he writes about the tonic power of turnip greens,” It must have had some therapeutic effect, for turnip foliage was brewed into potions, restoratives, and pick-me-ps from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century with vary report of it's good pharmacy. Even today in the deep South, a cup of turnip green “pot likker” is still reputed to be the best cure for hangover ever invented.” While I've never tried pot likker as a cure for hangover I do know that when I get turnips I like to use the greens to add extra flavor, texture and nutrition to whatever I am making.

As the weather gets cooler, soup becomes a weekly item on our family menu. Warm and comforting, it's an easy meal and a great way to use turnips and their greens together. This recipe is based on Bert Greene's Mixed Turnip Chowder. I simply substituted a leek for the onion, added turnip greens and a couple of cloves of garlic. If you can't get rutabagas you can increase the turnips and potatoes to make up for them.

Mixed Turnip Chowder

2 T. unsalted buttermilk
1 leek rinsed and finely chopped
1 large rib celery finely chopped
1 pound turnips peeled and diced
1 ½ pounds rutabagas peeled and diced
2 medium potatoes peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 quart vegetable broth
salt and pepper
1/8 t. mace (note: I don't use this)

Melt the butter, add the leek and garlic and cook a couple of minutes
Add the celery and cook a few minutes longer
Add the root vegetables and broth
bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer
Simmer about 20 minutes
Remove half of the vegetables and 1 C. broth
Add greens to the remaining soup in the pot
Blend the removed vegetables and broth until smooth
Return to the pot and add salt and pepper
Simmer another 5 minutes and then serve


photo courtesy of
staying healthy with nutrition, Elson Haas – pp 95, 108-109
Greene on Greens, pp 185, 387

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