I wasn’t a fan of turnips until I tasted the early-season varieties that resemble plump white radishes. With names like Market Express, Haukurei and Tokoyo turnips, they are piling up in pearly heaps in our farmers markets now.
When shopping, look for small while turnips that are firm and smooth without soft spots, blemishes, cracks or shriveling. The greens should appear fresh, bright and crisp. About eight to 12 of these turnips make a pound, enough to serve four people.
The greens are quite spicy, resembling mustard greens in flavor, and are delicious sautéed or braised in plenty of oil (they’re too sharp to eat raw). Once you get the turnips home, remove the greens and store them separately from the bulbs. Wrap the greens in a barely damp towel and place them in a plastic bag to store in the refrigerator. Refrigerate the turnip bulbs in an open plastic bag so as not to trap too much moisture that might dampen their crisp texture.
These early-season varieties were developed in Japan in the ’50s and are favored over our larger fall turnips. They are surprisingly delicate, with mild, almost fruity flavors; the texture is so crunchy and juicy that these can be eaten raw.
There’s no need for peeling, just a good rinse. Try them quartered and set out on a relish try, shaved into slaws, and sliced to pair with apples in salads. When simmered, braised and sautéed, they’re mild and tender, almost buttery, and when roasted or grilled using high heat, the turnips’ sweetness intensifies as they turn golden brown.
Baby turnips are perfect for quick pickles. This simple mix-and-pour method of pickling takes just a couple of minutes. Use your favorite seasonings in the brine — jalapeno, dried chiles, fresh ginger, rosemary, oregano, dill, bay leaf or whatever flavor you like.
Vary the vinegars, too: Apple cider vinegar is stronger than rice wine vinegar, which is slightly sweet. Red wine will turn the turnips slightly pink. Avoid balsamic vinegar as it can make the turnips look muddy. I prefer kosher salt for pickling as the minerals in sea salt tend to cloud the brine.
Quick pickles make pretty condiments for the cheese plate, barbecue and picnic. I like to make a big batch to keep in a covered container in the refrigerator and enjoy throughout the week. Tangy and refreshing, they make a great snack in summer’s heat.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.