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The humble turnip deserves a place in your kitchen
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The humble turnip deserves a place in your kitchen

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Turnips aren't common in home kitchens, so cooks don't always know what to do with them. Pick up a bunch at your local farmers market and start experimenting.

The humble turnip deserves a place in your kitchen.

The turnip is one of the most misunderstood vegetables, disliked by many because of its pungent smell while cooking and its sharp taste. They are not common in most kitchens and, as a result, home cooks don’t always know what to do with them. That’s a simple problem to solve — just pick up a bunch at your local farmers market or direct from your favorite farm and experiment!

The turnip’s humble beginning

Turnips have long been considered peasant food, and even feed for livestock in the 1700s. Aristocracy throughout history rarely ate turnips, and when they did, the flavor was disguised with honey or heavy spices.

Turnips were even used as lanterns by Celtic people in Ireland. They would hollow out the inside — much like we do with pumpkins in October — and place embers in the turnip. This was done to ward off evil spirits; at least our poor turnip had a special use then!

Turnips arrived in the United States alongside our early European colonists and have been cultivated here ever since. They are available locally in the spring and fall, and you will likely find a few varieties at your market to try.

Preparing and storing turnips

Peeling turnips is a personal preference. The outer skin of larger turnip bulbs can carry a very strong flavor, so it is best to peel these. Smaller turnips can be cooked unpeeled. If you intend to eat the turnip raw, peel it no matter what size.

Whole turnips with the greens removed will last in your refrigerator for several months when stored properly. Wrap them in a moist paper towel and place them in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper.

Alternatively, they will also keep in proper vegetable keeper-style containers in your refrigerator. Do not wash them before storing and store the best turnips from the bunch. Soft or damaged bulbs should be used soon after purchase.

How to use turnips

Add chopped turnips to soups and stews to provide a more earthy flavor.

Mash turnips along with potatoes, butter, and milk for mashed “not just potatoes.”

Add sliced turnips to sliced potatoes for au gratin and scalloped dishes.

Cream them with pearl onions.

Eat them raw with dip and add them to salads.

Roast them with simple spice alone or alongside your favorite vegetables.

Use the greens in soups, or cook them like collard or mustard greens.

Whether you prepare them simply or use them in more extravagant dishes, turnips are an inexpensive vegetable worthy of your attention. Who knows …  maybe you’ll find your new favorite misunderstood veggie!

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