The Bane of Michigan Winters – Turnips and their Virtues




The other day, my friend, Matt, and I were sitting in my kitchen, snacking on a loaf of French bread and various cheeses. I had pulled out the pickled asparagus I had made the previous month and as he declared it “pickle-y goodness”, we began to discuss what our top favorite vegetables were.

“Peas”, I said.

It was the first thing that came to mind. Then salad greens of any kind. And of course tomatoes and asparagus and fresh artichokes. And radishes as a previously outcast vegetable that I only had recently come to love. 

Matt also declared he loved green beans.

However, the one vegetable that did not come up was a turnip. Which, come to think of, is both an odd choice to include and leave out. In a lot of ways, I feel they are a highly misunderstood vegetable and it wasn’t until I lived in Scotland that I really even began to want to even consider them as a vegetable. My mother never really made them and I thought they were one of those vegetables lost to the pages of unappetizing American food.

But then I tried neeps and tatties (pototoes and turnips) in Scotland, which can either be mashed together or diced and then cooked together until tender, covered in butter, salt and pepper, and served in many a pub.

I started adding them to my own mashed potatoes – one turnip to four potatoes – not to overwhelm things. And then came Julia Child’s recipe from “The French Chef Cookbook” in which she declared that this was a recipe to convert turnip haters into turnip lovers. Braised in chickenbroth and parsley, the turnips were sweet and tender and perfect as a winter dish. But it didn’t stop there — I rallied for turnips, trying to convince everyone they really were delightful.

But that was the turnip conundrum. All these recipes were meant for cold weather as turnips store excellently and are also often the first vegetables of late fall or early spring. Then a few years ago, NY Times food writer, Melissa Clark, wrote an article praising the virtues of eating normally cooked vegetables raw like squash and turnips. Turnips, it turned out, were like a less biting radish when raw.

So this winter, getting tired of the same old vegetables in Michigan, I was desperate for raw vegetables and a light lunch. I had some turnips lying around, so I diced two small ones and threw them together with olive oil and salt. Along with some cheese and crackers, it was the perfect lunch.

Of course, this recipe isn’t just a burst of freshness in the dead of winter. It’s the perfect light and refreshing summer salad. I had been working all morning in the garden and coming in, I wanted something light and cool. What better than a crisp, cool turnip? You can see this perversity at work — once you get hooked, turnips will never let you go.


Raw Turnip Salad

1 large or 2 small turnips

handful fresh herbs, chopped — I like parsley or celery leaves

handful walnut pieces (optional)

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

olive oil

Dice turnip. Put on a plate and drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste. Toss with herbs and walnuts. Devour.


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