Last fall I decided to make the most of our recently mild winters by trying a cold season garden. While going about this task, I gathered all the partial packets of cool-season vegetable seeds I had, some dating back over a decade, and scattered everything into a few plots to see what might come up. The turnip seeds were the most recent acquisition, so, perhaps predictably, germination was excellent. They proceeded to grow like gangbusters through the rainy, cool weather with very little encouragement from me. Turnips, as it turns out, require very little care to produce a good crop. The majority of the work was covering the plot with the cold frame when we had a single-digit cold snap and selecting which ones to pull based upon crowded living conditions. By the time it warmed up this spring, I had grown more turnips than I knew what to do with.
The cultivar I planted is a Japanese variety called Hida beni, and it turned out to be a fortuitous selection. The Japanese are quite fond of the turnip, and, as masters of plant breeding, they have made these seemingly humble roots absolutely beautiful. This particular variety has a brightly colored skin that will dye your batch of pickles a lovely pink without the addition of an earthy beet. My first encounter with pickled turnips was in a pita wrap from a food truck, and the sharp, pink pickles perfectly cut the richness of the fried falafel, tahini dressing, and feta cheese. I’m not a person who gets particularly excited about the prospect of a pickle, but they have been growing on me recently, so I gave it a go.
There are a great number of recipes out there, and I ended up mish-mashing a few ideas and making a “quick” pickle using rice vinegar, black peppercorns, a couple of cloves of garlic, bay leaves, and Facing Heaven chiles. Within a few hours, the anthocyanin pigments, which are conveniently water soluble, had dispersed throughout the container and my pickles were turning a lovely shade of pale pink. Some were given away, and others made their way into sandwiches and onto veggie burgers. In addition to the mild flavor, the fragrance was remarkable: almost floral. Just lovely.
Another batch of roots made its way into a pan full of Singapore noodles. People will discuss which ingredients in this dish are traditional, however, I have come to think of it as a basic noodle dish that can take whatever happens to be languishing in the produce bin of the fridge. Just slice everything thinly or julienne with a mandoline, and in it all goes. I also tend to lean toward a veg heavy, noodle light ratio, as can be seen below. This time I used purple cabbage and multi-colored carrots in addition to the turnips.
All the flavors are pulled together with a Malaysian curry powder that is beautifully aromatic, especially if you make your own. I should write a post just on this dish simply because of its versatility. In the meantime, here’s a place to begin if you want to give it a try. I will note that I have never been able to find the exact noodles that people suggest, but it does not seem to have mattered. Pick up whichever rice noodles you can find and then follow the directions on the package, or just use that box of spaghetti from the cupboard.
A lot of people grow turnips for the roots, but in the south, if you are told you will be served turnips there is an excellent chance you will get a plate full of greens. I tended more pots of turnip greens on my Grandmother’s stove than I can count, and it was unusual for there to be more than one or two roots floating around amongst the leaves. I rather enjoy having half of my plate covered with a quantity of greens that is, of course, referred to as “a mess.” I am, however, and unfortunately, alone in that sentiment in this house. I found other ways to use the greens, one of which was in a bowl of phở. This Vietnamese bowl of noodles and aromatic broth can be made on the fly if you cook the stock in large batches, a pressure cooker works nicely, and then stash it all in the freezer. This recipe is a good place to start, then, as always, adjust the next batch to your taste. I tossed the turnip greens into the pot for the last few seconds of heating the stock, then served it up. That’s steam messing with the focus in the back. Phở is fantastic in cold weather.
There will be another turnip post simply because I had so many of them, and I ended up finding all kinds of interesting ways to use them. At least I hope they are interesting. Stay tuned and eat more turnips!