As far as I can tell, there are still people who don’t quite know what to do with a turnip. Turnip greens have a more certain presence for Southern eaters, but the bulbous root itself doesn’t seem to command a great deal of attention. And when it does find its way into the average pot, I’m not sure that it gets treated with much respect. In my own experience, diced turnips sometimes appeared at a covered dish church supper, soggy, unattractive and untouched on a long table –left alone there as diners chose the more attractive company of mashed potatoes, mac-n-cheese, even steamed-to-death broccoli, and iceberg lettuce, limp and drowning in value brand ranch.
The turnip did get a recent moment in the spotlight with First Lady, Michelle Obama in a six second Vine appearance, which prompted some news outlets, including the LA Times, to offer up a few recipes including a classic one for glazed turnips. But even with Mrs. Obama’s hip turnip moment set to the sounds of DJ Snake and Lil John, there are few kids in our neck of the woods who wake up thinking that they’d love to dive into a steaming bowl of creamed turnips.
Even in literature, the turnip doesn’t get much love. There’s a Russian fairy tale about a giant turnip with a lovely moral about the value of teamwork. And the Brothers Grimm have a giant turnip tale in their collection, too (albeit one with a mighty weird ending), but neither of these tales made it into any of my story books.
But turnips are worth considering. They belong to the same family that includes broccoli,
cauliflower and kale, usually they’re affordable, they’re always rich in vitamin C, B6, folate and other good things, too. They are great storage vegetables and have been a welcome part of the winter diet when good food planning (and planting) meant the difference in life and death on the Tundra.
The root can be woody, sharp and bitter if it’s grown in too warm a climate or gets too big, but smaller bulbs are sweet, earthy, and reminiscent of radish. They make a nice addition to mashed potatoes or a mixed vegetable roast, and are a classic combination with braised duck.
Tomato Head’s Turnip and Fennel Soup
1 small onion, diced
1/3 cup oil
4 garlic cloves, diced
2 large turnips about 6 cups, peeled and diced
Green stalks and fronds from 1 fennel bulb, about 2 cups, rinsed and chopped
5 cups water
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Peel and dice onion and garlic. Remove ends from turnips – peel, then dice turnips. Cut the stalks off the fennel bulb right above the bulb, where the bulb starts to turn green, rinse and slice the stalks.
Heat oil in a medium to large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minute until onions are translucent. Add fennel stalks and fronds, turnips, and water. Increase heat to high; bring mixture to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer soup uncovered for 20 – 30 minutes or until turnips are easily pierced with a fork. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, and lemon juice. With an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth. Serve immediately or cool and reheat when needed.
If using a traditional stand blender – allow soup to cool before blending. Hot liquids will splatter, with the potential to burn when blended.
Reheat to serve.