These brassica family vegetables aren't fashionable. Many Europeans survived on swede during the Second World War, so its association with privation is strong. Turnips are animal fodder, and no one's heard of the tender kohlrabi. If some television chef took up its cause, it would probably become the new rocket.
Before the New World potato arrived, the turnip and parsnip were Europe's staple starches. Turnips are yellow or white, sometimes with green or purple shoulders where the root was above ground and exposed to light. Raw, they taste of mustard like their hotter cousin, the radish. Turnips are not very dense and cook quickly. Roasted, they are almost sweet, and they add a peppery bite to potato latkes. There is no need to peel a turnip, and young ones can be eaten whole. Turnips are a bit sweeter after a light frost.
The slightly prickly turnip tops are another dark leaf green to savor. They are rich in vitamins A, B and C, calcium, and potassium. Cook in very little water and dress them with olive oil and vinegar. In the American South they cook the greens with bacon. In May, turnip greens with small new bulbs, such as Early Snowball, appear at market. Slice the root, chop the greens, and sauté both in olive oil, roots first, then leaves.
Swede is related to the turnip. It is a large, round, yellow and purple root. The yellow or white flesh of swede is more delicate than that of carrot, less sweet than parsnip, not as sharp as a turnip, and delicious roasted with all three. It is lovely puréed with potatoes and an apple. Swedes are denser than turnips and take longer to cook.
Wild cabbage and turnip are the ancestors of kohlrabi, a swollen stem that grows above ground. It is an orange-sized globe with pale green, purple, or white skin, and slender stems emerging from all sides, shooting straight up. Kohlrabi is tender, with the faint taste of radish. There's no need to peel young ones. Kohlrabi can be eaten raw as a crudité. It is nice steamed until crisp-tender and dressed with olive oil, or in a warm salad with something sweet, like a pear.
Swede: from October, from storage until February. Turnips: June to November. Kohlrabi: June to September.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Firm, unblemished skin, heavy for their size. No grey mottled patches, which are caused by frost. Turnip tops and kohlrabi stems should be fresh, not wilted.
Unwashed, tops cut off, in a plastic bag as cool as 32°F. The refrigerator is fine. Use swedes within 3-4 weeks, turnips in 2 weeks and kohlrabi in a week.
MAKING THE MOST OF A SURPLUS
Turnip soup and swede purée. These don't freeze well.
SAUTÉED BABY TURNIPS & CARROTS
Strong winter vegetables taste better when immature than summer ones, which are mostly water. A tiny zucchini has very little flavor, but a little turnip is tangy. You can leave them whole, and they are pretty.
3 baby turnips per person, trimmed
3 baby carrots per person, trimmed
5 baby leeks per person, white part only (finger-sized)
1 tbsp olive oil per person
- Bring salted water to a boil, blanch the carrots and turnips until just short of crisp-tender. Drain.
- Sauté the leeks in the olive oil. When they are half done, add the root vegetables and sauté until they are golden and the leeks are soft, with brown edges. Season to taste.
KOHLRABI & PEAR SALAD WITH CHIVES
1 kohlrabi per person, peeled
1 firm pear such as Concord per person
2 tsp chopped chives and chive flowers (or flat-leaf parsley) per person
2 tsp olive oil per person
- Bring to a boil 1 inch salted water, just enough to cover the kohlrabi. Meanwhile, peel the kohlrabi. Slice it in rounds, and then into sticks about ½-inch thick. Cook in 1-inch water until tender but not mushy. Drain and keep warm in saucepan.
- Cut the pears into similar matchstick-shaped pieces. Mix together all the ingredients gently, and season to taste. Serve warm, or at room temperature.
ROASTED TURNIP PURÉE
There is no need to peel a turnip. The skin is tender and full of vitamins.
1 lb turnips, trimmed and chopped
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
- Set the oven to 350°F. Chop turnips and onions, mix with 1 tbsp olive oil, and salt lightly. Roast until completely soft and slightly brown on the edges, about 30 minutes.
- Purée everything with 1 tbsp olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.
From The Farmers' Market Cookbook by Nina Planck, [Kindle Edition], Diversion Books, September, 2013. Photo: Sarah Cuttler