"I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around." --James Beard
I love turnips. And so did the Greeks and Romans - ancient author Pliny the Elder heralded turnips as one of the most important vegetables of the time. Cultivated nearly 4,000 years ago in the Near East, this humble member of the brassica family is versatile, stores well, and is a powerhouse of nutrition. Like the other brassicas, they have a slightly cabbagey, bitey flavor. Raw, they are crisp and pungent, and make a great addition to salads. Cooked in soups, they add a depth of flavor and nice, starchy texture. Roasted, they make great home fries. Sliced and fried, they get crisp and rich. Mashed and whipped, they are a great substitute for potatoes. Sliced thin and layered, they make a beautiful gratin. Even their greens are delicious and super nutritious! Turnips show up in a wide variety of food traditions, from French to Chinese to Eastern European to American Southern. Oh, how I love turnips and their endless versatility!
In addition to being tasty, they are darn good for you. Like other members of the brassica family, turnips have special health-promoting phytochemicals that fight cancer and other illnessess, and are naturally antifungal. Chinese medicine asserts that turnips help to move the qi and clear phlegm and mucous, making them a great choice for damp conditions like lung congestion or candida. They are low in calories and low glycemic, and full of fiber, folate, manganese, calcium, potassium and vitamin C. In fact, 1 cup of turnips provides nearly 50% of your daily recommended Vitamin C!
A cool weather crop, turnips are bounitful in the fall and winter, so now is the perfect time of year to introduce turnips to your diet. Look for firm turnips, free of blemishes, with smooth skin. While turnips can grow to be quite large, smaller turnips have a milder flavor and more tender texture that I prefer. Easily confused with a rutabaga and some radishes, the most most common turnip is white, and may have a purple, reddish, or green top. My local co-op has a beautiful heirloom variety of turnip that is a deep ruby red and is oh-so-tasty.
I had a number of turnips in my crisper that needed to get used up, so I decided on a French-inspired roasted turnip using tarragon. If you've never used tarragon, I'd recommend getting some to try - it has an aromatic licorice-y/anise-y flavor, and is often used in French cuisine for sauces, fish, and eggs. I adore tarragon, and think it combines perfectly with the turnip. This recipe is quick and delicious, and has a remarkebly complex flavor for being so simple. I would have a photo to share of the beautiful roasted little morsels, but I just ate most of them. Enjoy!
Tarragon Roasted Turnips
Yield: approx 2 cups roasted
5-6 small or 3-4 medium turnips (approx 2 1/2 c diced)
1 T dried tarragon
1-2 T olive oil
sprinkling salt and pepper to taste
optional: drizzle lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Wash and peel turnips, and dice into approximately 1 in. x 1 in. cubes.
Place diced turnips in heavy, oven-safe baking dish or roasting pan, and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle on tarragon, salt and pepper, and toss to evenly coat.
Place in oven, and roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring often, or until turnips are soft and golden brown.
Serve warm or chilled over sauteed greens (like TURNIP GREENS, for example!), grains, or beans, or as a tasty side dish to fish, poultry, or meat. Delicious with a squirt of lemon juice, if you can tolerate citrus!