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When I was a kid, there was almost always a waxy, orange-shading-to-purple small bowling ball of a vegetable in the root basket in my Irish Mom’s pantry. She called it a turnip, and so, for many years, did I. But it was actually a rutabaga-thought to be a cross between a wild turnip and cabbage-and she used to combine it with mashed potatoes for a most toothsome Gaelic dish. Rutabagas are much harder to locate these days-and may be identified as a “Swede” (their nomenclature in much of the world outside North America) or “neep” (by the Scots)-but they are well worth the hunt. Sweeter and more tender than turnips, rutabagas are rich in beta-carotene and packed with vitamin A.
The turnip has largely fallen into oblivion these days-especially in North America. But once upon a time, it was a valued root crop for much of the civilized world. The Greeks and Romans prized them highly: Pliny the Elder sang the praises of the turnip, opining that “its utility surpasses that of any other plant;” and Sappho classically referred to one of her paramours with the affectionate name “turnip.” Before the ubiquitous potato became popular, the turnip was a staple crop for numerous civilizations. Now, alas, it has been consigned to the margins of various ethnic cuisines.
And that’s a shame, because not only are turnips quite delicious when properly prepared, they’re also a treasure-trove of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. The most vital thing to remember is: use those leaves! The more-familiar root is an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber, but it’s the leafy turnip greens that have the greatest health-amplifying impact.
Turnips are actually members of the cruciferous family of vegetables, and their crowning greenery has been proved to outshine all of their cousins-including broccoli, kale, and cauliflower-in providing cancer-preventing glucosinolates. In addition to the standard antioxidant trio of vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, turnip greens provide a broad spectrum of phytonutrients that ramp up cellular protection. And their concentrations of vitamin K, folate, and fiber-related nutrients help reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol, providing key cardiovascular benefits.
So it’s time to add turnips and their greens to your arsenal of beneficial veggies. Your local health food store or farmers market will most likely provide you with the freshest and sweetest specimens to be found. The roots should be smooth and unblemished, and the greens should be crisp and dark green. After you get your turnips home, cut off the greens and store them separately-the roots will keep for several weeks in the fridge, but the greens should be used within a few days for maximum nutritional benefit.
Asian-Style Braised Baby Turnips
This simple-to-make, Asian-inspired dish makes a perfect paring with teriyaki ahi or chicken.
3 lbs. small white turnips with tops
3 Tbs. white miso
1 1/4 cups water
2 Tbs. sake
1/2 tsp. minced fresh lemon grass
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Trim turnips, and cut in half. Discard stems, chop greens, and set aside.
- Combine turnips, miso, water, sake, and lemon grass in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat, and simmer until just tender, 10-15 minutes. Add turnip greens, return to a boil, and cook uncovered until liquid is reduced to a glaze, about 5 minutes.
- Transfer to serving dish, drizzle with sesame oil, and sprinkle with cilantro.
PER SERVING: 110 cal; 5g pro; 2g total fat (<1g sat fat); 22g carb; 0mg chol; 576mg sod; 9g fiber; 11g sugars
Serves 6 This hearty offering pairs beautifully with a nice slow-cooked pot roast on a wet, chilly day.
3 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes (or other yellow-type potato)
2 lbs. rutabagas or turnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. organic butter
2 Tbs. horseradish
2 Tbs. snipped fresh chives
- Cook potatoes in water to cover in large pot until soft, 25-30 minutes. Drain, return to heat, and dry about 1 minute, shaking pot. Transfer to large bowl.
- Meanwhile, cook rutabagas in water to cover in another large pot until tender, 15-20 minutes.
- Drain, return to heat, and dry about 1 minute, shaking pot. Transfer to bowl with potatoes.
- Lightly mash potatoes and rutabagas with masher. Add olive oil and butter, and mash to desired consistency.
- Stir in horseradish, chives, and salt and pepper to taste.
PER SERVING: 356 cal; 6g pro; 16g total fat (4g sat fat); 46g carb; 10mg chol; 87mg sod; 6g fiber; 8g sugars