Like cabbage, to which it is related, the turnip
has long been thought of as "peasant" 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 20 to 25 kilos, while others are the size of a golf
ball. The flesh can be white or yellow, but most commercial grown
turnips have white flesh.
The turnips you'll find in the supermarket may range from roughly
the size of a golf ball to that of a cricket ball. 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 15 kilos or more, small ones are
sweeter and more tender than large ones, which may be bitter and
woody. Bunched turnips are usually about 2" in diameter,
topped turnips about 3".
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 ; they will keep
for about a week.
Turnips can be eaten raw, but large ones may be strongly flavoured;
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 flavour mild, don't overcook .
Avoid cooking turnips in aluminum or iron pans
, 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.