What is a turnip?
The distinctive sweetness and peppery flavour of turnips complements hearty dishes and cuts through the richness of lamb braises. Although common in the Australian Sunday roast, turnips can be found in many other cuisines. Cooks in Japan and the Middle East pickle young turnips and the French serve it along with rich dishes of braised meats.
Turnips have been grown for thousands of years and are the descendants of wild turnips that grew in Central Asia and the Mediterranean. There is evidence that the ancient Greeks and Romans cultivated this vegetable.
Turnip seeds were carried on the First Fleet to Australia in 1787 and the vegetable was used to feed the colony.
In Australia, turnips are not usually sold by variety. Turnips can vary in size, shape and colour. Most have white flesh and the skin can be creamy-white or green with green or purple tops.
Baby turnips are also available and these are smaller in size because they are picked earlier than mature turnips. Presto and Cueball are two types of pure white baby turnips. Baby turnips taste milder than larger turnips and can be eaten raw or grated in salads.
Why turnips are good to eat
Turnips are an excellent source of vitamin B9 (folate), C and E.
- They also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure) and manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function).
- Turnips contain dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of turnip supplies approximately 80 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Turnip plants are grown from seeds and develop best in cool climates. The plants need plenty of water to stop the mature vegetable from becoming woody and stringy. The edible root of the turnip grows underground although the tops (the leaves on the stalks) can also be eaten.
Turnips are ready to harvest after 60 to 70 days, when they are about the size of a tennis ball. Baby turnips are picked earlier, once they have grown to approximately five centimetres in diameter. You can pull turnips from the ground or use a gardening fork to loosen the soil around them.
Choose firm, round turnips that feel heavy for their size and have fresh-looking tops and smooth skin. Avoid turnips with soft patches or visible damage to the skin. Also avoid very large turnips, as these may be stringy in the centre.
How to store and keep turnips
Store turnips (without their leaves) in a vegetable storage bag in the crisper section of your fridge. The leaves can also be stored this way. Turnips will keep for about a week but the leaves should be used within one day.
How to use
- Try turnip greens alongside your chicken dish – sauté garlic, chillis and anchovies, add turnip leaves and cook until wilted.
- Serve a nutritious side dish – sauté peeled and sliced turnips with garlic and add raisins, a squeeze of lemon, chopped spinach and finish with a sprinkle of ground nutmeg before eating.
- Make a turnip and potato mash – cook chopped turnips and potatoes until tender, then mash with butter, a little cream and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Bake turnips in a gratin – slice turnips and potatoes and arrange in a baking dish, pour cream and some grated cheese on top and bake until tender, golden and crisp.
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Better Health Channel
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