In a world with such a variety of vegetables, us cooks are always challenged with produce that people do not typically like. This is also where we strive to create dishes that stretch taste buds and change people’s minds. I hated onions when I was a kid, pushing my mother’s hard work around the edges of the plate like it was toxic. For instance, if it was french onion soup, all the bread, cheese and broth would be gone leaving a pile of lonely onion in the bottom of the bowl. It wasn’t until I started having onions in different and interesting preparations that I learned the beautiful complexity of an onion and its flavor (not to insult french onion soup). Onions and I have been close ever since.
Apart from the onion, I have heard many people explain their dislike for turnips. Turnips are abundant this time of year and usually have a cheap price tag. I also think this misunderstood vegetable is the most delicious root vegetables there is. With the strength of a potato and the delicate flavor of a sweet radish, turnips are universal in the cooking world. There are many easy ways to prepare this lost vegetable, even far beyond my knowledge. These are a few of my favorites:
Grilled Turnips: An all-time favorite. In a salted pot of boiling water, cook turnips whole until tender. You can check this easily with a toothpick, just like a potato. Make an ice bath with equal parts ice and water and a few pinches of salt. Place cooked turnips in the ice bath until they cool to room temperature. The skins should peel very easily from the turnip. Once the skins are discarded, slice the turnips into pieces that will be easy to grill. Toss with salt and olive oil and place on a hot grill until nicely marked on both sides.
Turnip and Potato Hash: Great with eggs in the morning, or next to a grilled steak, or both! Just dice your potatoes and turnips evenly and boil in salted water until tender. Remove and saute in a hot skillet with olive oil and salt until crispy. Add thinly slivered red onion and fresh thyme to deepen the flavor. Toss with a tab of butter and a small amount of lemon juice to sweeten and add acid.
Pickled Turnip: There are a wide variety of pickling brines out there, and I’m not sure if I’ve found my favorite for turnips yet. I have had great success with making simple brines (consisting of vinegar, water, sugar and salt). Heat water and vinegar, whisk in salt and sugar until they’ve dissolved. Pour the hot brine over raw turnips, wedged or whole, and refrigerate for at least a week. If you are not very familiar with making pickling brines, try David Chang’s pickling brine from Momofuku, www.esquire.com/features/guy-food/momofuku-recipe-1009 .*
Turnip Chitara: Derived from the Italian word for guitar, chitara is cutting vegetables in a spaghetti-like shape, emulating guitar strings. There are mandolins and other gadgets that whip out a beautiful chitara, but with a steady hand and patience, this can be done with just a knife. Saute in olive oil with a small amount of garlic, but not for long, as you don’t want your chitara to overcook. De-glaze your pan with white wine and add heavy cream to create a pan sauce. Reduce until a nice thick consistency occurs and season with salt. Garnish with parmesan cheese and fresh radishes. Add bacon or ground pork in the beginning to make this a heavier dish.
There are a million possibilities for turnips and other vegetables out there, we just have to experiment and never be afraid to try new things. So the next time your child says, “I don’t like onions”, or you find yourself not ordering a dish because of an ingredient, please remember that our taste buds change daily, and that there is always a way to make something delicious.
Lead Line Cook