I love places where the change of seasons is celebrated by feasting on seasonal produce. In Japan, the chestnuts, persimmons, sweet potatoes, soybeans, and other fall vegetables are welcomed like well-loved guests and ushered to the table. My own garden provides much to celebrate this time of year–not the wild, party crowd of summer, but a hard-working solid bunch that doesn’t mind frost and fading light. The insects and weeds are gone, and what is left are hardy plants quietly growing their sweet green leaves and roots. It’s the closest thing to free lunch that a gardener gets. The lunch includes a host of broccoli heads and gorgeous purple cauliflower, but it’s mostly about deep green leaves and roots. So, I’m digging in to my roots.
A few years ago my friend Rachel sent me seeds for “Oasis” turnip, along with a rave review. She and her gardening partner loved them so much they were slicing them raw into salads and eating them whole like apples. I was dubious. My memory of turnips was from the years we grew them to feed to the cows–softball sized monsters with a powerful “turnip” aroma. But then I went to Japan and tasted sweet, crunchy turnips–a revelation! So, I planted seeds of “Oasis” in mid-August, and the tender, mild-flavored roots are finding their way into lots of dishes.
Quick Kimchi Turnip Pickle
Ingredients: 3 or 4 small turnips (8 to 12 oz), 1 to 2 tsp sugar, 1 Tbs unseasoned rice vinegar, 2 to 3 tsp minced fresh red chile or 1 tsp crushed red chile flakes (or to taste), 1/2 tsp sea or kosher salt, 1 minced garlic clove
Peel and cut the turnips into 1/8-inch thick matchsticks. Use your hands to gently combine the turnips with the seasonings. Let stand at least one hour before serving. The pickle is best fresh, but will keep in the refrigerator two or three days.
Japanese Quick Pickled Turnips
I adapted this from a salt-rubbed cabbage and cucumber salad/pickle prepared by Mieko, a farm woman from Mino, Japan, whose passion is passing on the traditional county farm cooking of her grandmothers.
Ingredients: 6 to 8 medium young turnips with leaves (about 1 1/2 lbs), 4 tsp coarse kosher or sea salt, juice and zest of 1 lemon (preferably Meyer), 2 small red chiles, 1 tsp grated ginger
Cut turnips in halves or quarters and slice thinly. Cut lower stems into 3/4 -inch pieces. Cut a couple handfuls of the leaves into bite-size pieces. Toss together in a bowl and rub the salt into the vegetables with your hands. Add thin slices of lemon zest, chile (optional), and ginger to the turnips. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until needed. Sprinkle with lemon juice before serving. This pickle will keep for about a week but becomes less crunchy.
*This is brilliant: Make Quick Pickled Lemons the day before you make the turnip pickle. It’s the same process: Cut 3 small lemons in half lengthwise and slice the half-lemons as thinly as possible. Make a paste of 1 hot chile, 1 garlic clove, 1 Tbs sugar, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and the juice of 1 lemon. Rub the paste into the lemon slices with your hands. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and let sit overnight. Add thin slices of pickled lemons to the turnip pickle.
Japanese Sweet Vinegar Pickle
This is another quick pickle from Mieko. Her version included cucumber, bell pepper, cauliflower, lotus root, garbanzo beans, daikon, kidney beans, and celery.
Ingredients: 1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar (I like brown rice vinegar), 2 Tbs sugar, 4 to 6 turnips (3 cups prepared), 1 large carrot (1 1/2 cup prepared), 1 1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt
Bring the rice vinegar and sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and remove from the heat.
Peel and cut the turnips and carrots into thin matchsticks, 1 1/2 to 2 inches long. Put them into a colander and sprinkle with salt. Mix well with your hands, rubbing the salt into the vegetables, and drain over a bowl or in the sink 15 to 20 minutes. Gently squeeze out excess moisture and transfer to a bowl. Add the cooled vinegar mixture and stir gently. Chill a few hours before serving. This pickle will keep in the refrigerator for several days.
Lentil Soup with Turnips from the Italian Grandmothers
This recipe is adapted from a soup prepared for Jessica Theroux by a woman named Irene, made with yellow-fleshed heirloom Caprauna turnips. I used my Oasis turnips, but am inspired to search for yellow turnip seeds for next year. Prepare the soup a few hours ahead of time to let the soup thicken and flavors meld.
Ingredients: 4 Tbs flavorful olive oil, 1 medium yellow onion, 4 garlic cloves, 2 tsp fresh rosemary, 2 tsp fresh marjoram, 2 tsp fresh thyme, 1 small dried chile, 1 1/2 cups small French or Spanish lentils (washed and drained), 1/2 cup white wine, 5 1/2 cups water, 1 1/2 cups diced turnips, 1 tsp salt
Garnish: 1/3 cup toasted walnuts (pounded in mortar), chopped parsley, olive oil infused with chile
Chop the onion in a small dice, mince the garlic, and finely chop the herbs. Slowly sauté the onion with a pinch of sea salt over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and fresh herbs and stir them with the onions 3 minutes longer. Add lentils and sauté a few minutes. Stir in the wine. Add water and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and simmer about 40 minutes. Add turnips and salt; simmer 15 to 20 minutes more.
Irene garnished her soup with a sprinkling of pounded fresh walnuts, chopped parsley, and a drizzle of olive oil. I gave the soup a flavor boost with a walnut-parsley pesto.
Inflamed Parsley-Walnut Pesto
Ingredients: 1 cup parsley leaves, 6 sorrel leaves, small handful fresh mint leaves, handful garlic chives, 1 garlic clove, zest of 1 lemon, 1/3 cup toasted walnuts, 1 small hot chile or 1/2 tsp red chile flakes, 4 Tbs walnut or olive oil
Chop the herb leaves. Mash the garlic to a paste with a pinch of coarse salt. Use a mortar and pestle or food processor to roughly chop all the ingredients except the oil. Stir or pulse in the oil to make a chunky rustic pesto.
Note: The ingredients for Lentil-Turnip Soup make a very good lentil salad. Cook the lentils in 3 1/2 cups water with the garlic and herbs, but remove from the heat and strain off the liquid as soon as the lentils are tender. When cool, mix with diced raw sweet onion, carrot, and turnips. Add the chopped fresh herbs, minced chile, and lemon zest. Dress with olive or walnut oil and fresh lemon juice. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.