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Turnips
Why Eat It
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Like cabbage, to which it is related, the turnip has long been thought of as "plain folks" food. It is economical; it grows well in poor soil; it keeps well; and it supplies complex carbohydrates. One of the cruciferous vegetables in the Brassica genus, it can be cultivated for its root--which is a good source of complex carbohydrates--as well as for its greens, which are rich in vitamins and minerals. Turnips come in an astonishing range of shapes and sizes, depending on the age and variety--some have weighed 40 to 50 pounds, others are the size of a golf ball. The flesh can be white or yellow, but most commercial turnips have white flesh.

Availability

Turnips are available all year, in part because they store well--up to four months or more at 32°F in commercial storage. Supplies peak in the fall and winter months, when the bulk of the crop is harvested. California, Colorado, and Indiana are among the leading producers.

Shopping

The turnips you'll find in the supermarket may range from roughly the size of a golf ball to that of a baseball. More or less smoothly spherical or top-shaped, the most common varieties have a creamy white skin that shades to purple or reddish pink or green at the top. (The top of the root develops above the ground, and exposure to sunlight causes it to become pigmented while the lower part, buried in earth, does not.) Other turnip varieties, however, are completely white from top to tip.

Newly harvested turnips are sometimes sold in bunches with their leaves; these should be crisp and green. If in good condition, the leaves can be cooked and eaten. Topped turnips (with the greens cut off) are frequently sold in plastic bags. Leaf scars at the stem end of topped turnips should be few. The turnips themselves should always be firm and heavy for their size, with a minimum of fibrous root hairs at the bottom. Their surface should be smooth, not shriveled or bruised.

Although gardeners once prided themselves on producing massive turnips of 30 pounds or more, small ones are sweeter and more tender than large ones, which may be bitter and pithy. Bunched turnips are usually about 2" in diameter, topped turnips about 3".

Storage

Turnips keep well. Cut off turnip greens and bag them separately for storage (they keep for just a few days). Place the roots in plastic bags and store them in the refrigerator crisper; they will keep for about a week.

Preparation

Turnips can be eaten raw, but large ones may be strongly flavored; you can reduce their assertive taste somewhat by blanching them in boiling water for about five minutes before baking, braising, or stir-frying. And to keep the flavor mild, don't overcook these vegetables.

Avoid cooking turnips in aluminum or iron pots, as their flesh may darken.

Turnips are usually peeled before cooking (or using raw), although very young fresh turnips need not be. A vegetable peeler will remove the thinnest possible layer of skin. Then slice, dice, or cut into julienne strips, as required.

Baking/roasting: Place 1/4"-thick slices of turnip in a shallow baking dish and sprinkle with a few tablespoons of water. Cover and bake in a 350°F oven until tender. Quartered turnips can be roasted alongside meat or poultry. Cooking times: for turnips, 30 to 45 minutes; for rutabagas, 50 to 60 minutes.

Boiling: Drop whole turnips into a pot of boiling water, cover, and cook just until tender. Uncover the pot occasionally during cooking to allow the gases to escape and to ensure a delicate flavor. If a little sugar is added to the water, it will sweeten the taste of either vegetable. Cook thick slices of turnip in a skillet with 1" of boiling water; blanch julienne turnips in boiling water for just one to two minutes. Cooking times: for whole turnips, 20 to 30 minutes; for sliced or diced turnips, six to eight minutes.

Braising: Place sliced or cubed turnips in a heavy skillet. Add enough broth to cover the bottom of the pan, cover, and simmer until tender. Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.

Microwaving: Place a pound of cubed turnips in a microwaveable baking dish, add 3 tablespoons of liquid, cover, and cook until tender. Stir halfway through cooking time; let stand three minutes after removing them from the microwave. Cooking time: seven to nine minutes.

Steaming: Whole or cut-up turnips can be steamed over boiling water, then cooked until just tender. Cooking times: for whole medium-size turnips, 20 to 25 minutes; for cut-up turnips, 12 to 15 minutes.

Stir-frying: Stir-fry thinly sliced turnips until they are crisp-tender. Cooking time: six to seven minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Turnips/1 cup cubes, boiled

33
Total fat (g)
0.1
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
3.1
1
Carbohydrate (g)
8
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
78
Vitamin C (mg)
18


Date Published: 04/21/2005
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