But if you’ve brought home a bunch of turnips with their greens attached, don’t cut off the greens and throw them away. If the greens are still crisp, you can cook them up with a little bacon fat and then sprinkle them with bacon bits and enjoy a real Southern meal.
You can also sauté them in olive oil and a dash of chopped garlic and serve them as a tangy side dish.
Turnips greens can be prepared much like spinach. They look a bit like mustard greens but with a purplish tint. Turnip greens are not as biting as mustard greens; they have a mellower turnip flavor. (But remember, turnips, turnip greens, and mustard all come from the same peppery-tasting mustard family.)
Turnips greens, like turnips, are in season from mid-autumn through early spring. Greens from young plants that have not developed the turnip orb will have the least bite and will be readily available in early spring.
The best turnip greens for cooking are going to be 12 inches (30cm) long or shorter and come from turnips that are 2 to 3 inches (5-7.5 cm) in diameter. Turnip greens sometimes are grown as the only crop, either by harvesting before the root forms or by planting varieties that do not develop swollen roots.
Choose. Select fresh turnip greens that are plump and crisp and have a rich green color. Avoid greens that are yellow, thick or fibrous, pitted or flabby.
Store. Refrigerate turnip greens in a tightly sealed plastic bag for up 5 days. Store them unwashed until you are ready to use them. Turnip greens can be frozen like spinach.
Prepare. Wash greens just before using in a large bowl of lukewarm water in order to dislodge sand and dirt. Then cut off or strip out and discard the stems. You can remove the stems by folding the leaves in half and ripping out the stems.
Don’t dry the greens before cooking. The residual water will help them wilt as they cook.
Serve. Use young, tender turnip leaves in a salad alone or mixed with other greens. They dress well with a little olive oil and vinegar.
- You can cook turnip greens in just the water that clings to them after washing.
- Turnip greens are mostly water so they will shrink when they are cooked. Two large bunches will serve as a side dish for four people.
- Stew turnip greens for a least 1 hour in just enough liquid to cover them. Flavor the liquid with salt pork, cooking oil, butter, or margarine. Serve the resulting broth—which is called “pot likker”—with the greens over corn bread.
Flavor partners. Turnip green have an affinity for aged grating cheese, bacon, corn, cornbread, curry, garlic, ham, hot sauce, lemon, onion, salt pork, smoked turkey, and vinegar.
Season turnips greens with salt, pepper, onion, garlic, basil, dill, mace nutmeg, allspice, mustard, parsley, sage, rosemary, or thyme.
Avoid cooking greens in aluminum or iron pots as they will turn black on contact with these metals.
Nutrition. Turnip greens are an excellent source of vitamins A, B and C, potassium, and magnesium.
Turnip facts and trivia. Turnips (and their attached greens) got their start in Northern Europe more than 4,000 years ago. The cultivated turnip made its way to China and Japan from Europe and has been a staple in those countries and in India for almost 1,500 years.
The first turnip planted in the Americas was planted in Virginia in about 1609. Turnip greens that were discarded from plantation house kitchens became a common meal (cooked with pork parts) of American slaves. The turnip green became a staple of “soul” food and has enjoyed a culinary comeback with the rise of interest in regional cuisine.
The botanical name for the turnip is Brassica rapa var. rapa.