Turnips are a root vegetable commonly associated with potatoes or beets, but their closest relatives are radishes and arugula — all members of the mustard family in the genus Brassica. Both the bulbous white and purple taproot and the leafy greens are edible. The turnips are thought to have originated in eastern Asia, but it was widely cultivated around the Roman Empire and is now grown and eaten in temperate zones around the world.
What Are Turnips?
Turnips are available all year but are at their best in the fall, when mature vegetables are fresh, and in spring, when they are still small and sweet. Larger, older turnips develop tougher skins, which can leave a bitter aftertaste and require peeling. They have a stronger flavor than the young ones, but are great for mashing or adding to soups and stews. Like most root vegetables, turnips are a hardy and inexpensive ways to keep produce on hand throughout the winter.
How to Cook Turnips
Contrary to conventional wisdom, turnips can be eaten raw — treat them as you would radishes. Baby turnips can be cut into wedges and served as crudité with dip, or sliced and added to salads for a crisp, lightly zippy tang. You can also use them for a salad on their own — just slice thinly and drizzle with your favorite dressing. Like carrots, you can peel them or not, depending on your preference, but the thicker the skin, the more likely you'll need to peel it.
Turnips are more commonly served cooked than raw, and lend themselves to a variety of preparations. After rinsing, simply cut away any attached greens, trim off any dangling roots, and prepare as desired. Turnips are delicious roasted (a process that both mellows and concentrates their sweet flavor), mashed, baked, added to soups or stews, or even cut into sticks and baked as a healthier alternative to french fries. The greens can be prepared the way you would mustard or beet greens — washed, dried, and sauteed in butter or oil.
What Do Turnips Taste Like?
Turnips' slight spiciness results in a flavor that's somewhere between potato and radish. This heat — which, like horseradish, concentrates in the sinuses rather than on the tongue — makes them particularly well-suited to mixing and matching with other root vegetables or pairing with other strong flavors, such as ginger. Older turnips sometimes develop a pronounced mustard flavor, which mellows with cooking.
Think of potatoes and you'll get an idea of the many uses for turnips. You can prepare them on their own or use a blend of turnips, potatoes, and/or other root vegetables.
Where to Buy Turnips
Look for brightly colored turnips with creamy-looking bulbs and a violet-hued ring around the tops. Baby turnips may not have developed their violet tops and may look like large white spring radishes. In fall and spring, look for turnips with their greens attached to be sure they were freshly harvested. In winter, turnips will come from storage and their leaves will have been removed. In any case, you want firm turnips that feel heavy for their size and are without blemishes.
You can find them in most supermarkets and natural foods store near the potatoes and other root vegetables.
If you buy turnips with their greens attached, remove the greens immediately when you get them home. Left in place, they suck moisture from the root. Clean, store, and cook the greens as you would any cooking green. Store the turnips loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in the crisper of the fridge or loose in a root cellar. Like any root vegetable, they will stay freshest in a cool, dark, dry environment and can keep for many months stored this way.