Monday, March 9, 2009

And When Life Offers You Turnips. . . .

What you'll probably never see on a Gourmet cover -- "Our top ten turnip recipes!"  Face it, turnips are no one's favorite vegetable (are they yours?  Talk to me.).  And yet they're as much a part of the vegetable kingdom as the more popular potato, they're almost indestructable, they last for ages, the staple of root cellars.  They're easy to grow and cheap to buy.  They get us through tough times.

Their shape is not unlike the noble onion, and at their tops, they have a stripe of purple, like a sash worn by dignitaries.  Turnip greens are great -- sky-high in vitamin K (one cup offers over 660 percent of your RDA) and barely there in calories (28).  The turnip itself, cruciferous like its better-loved kin broccoli, is rich in vitamin C, calcium (!), folic acid and magnesium.  It's a veritable pharmacy in root form.  

And yet, the turnip is often the vegetable of last resort.   Even M.F.K Fisher, queen of penurious eats, doesn't provide a turnip recipe.  We'd rather feed it to livestock than eat it ourselves.  The taste and texture is the root of the problem.  Turnips are often served mashed, so unsuspecting folk spoon it up thinking it's mashed potatoes only to find out otherwise.  Turnips are more fibrous and somewhat other than potato in texture.  They have more in common with the radish.  And yet their density makes it hard to use turnips as you do radishes or daikon.  It is perplexing, especially so since I have acquired nine turnips through my farm share program and I have a horror of waste.  What to do?

I am opposed to the concept of sneaking vegetables into recipes.  Sneaking sounds so furtive and underhanded. I am much more in favor of recipe enhancement, you know, like enhanced breasts.   To enhance means you're not denying anything, it implies an active desire to improve, to make better.  And to enhance a dish with vegetables means you're adding nutrition and flavor, yet very little money and effort. This is everything I stand for. 

This turnip-enhanced vegetable tagine draws on the Moroccan flavors I love.  It is layered in taste, easy to prepare and contains turnips, which as God as my witness, I will never look down on again. 

Heretical Vegetable Tagine With Turnips (Deal With It)

Traditional Moroccan tagines simmer away all day.  Honey, who's got the time?  This heretical version produces the same result in a fraction of the time (see, sometimes heresy is a good thing).   Steadfast turnip refuseniks, some good news -- substitute a can of rinsed, drained chickpeas for the turnips and you're good to go.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion
3 medium-to-large turnips
1 large carrot
4 stalks celery
2 peppers, red or green
6 collard greens or handful of Swiss chard or spinach leaves, sliced into ribbons
1 15-ounce can organic diced tomatoes
1 handful raisins
1/2 teaspoon each paprika, cumin, cinnamon, aleppo pepper (or cayenne)  and saffron
1 wedge preserved lemon or 1 fresh lemon
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch Italian parsley
sea salt to taste

Fill a large pot with water, then bring to boil.  Peel turnips and chop into bite-sized pieces.  Add turnip bits to water, cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer until turnips are tender, about 25 minutes.  Drain and set aside.  

In a large stock pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Chop onion, carrot, celery and peppers.  Add to oil, along with turnips.  Toss well.  Add paprika, cumin, cinnamon, aleppo pepper and saffron.  Stir in greens.

Add diced tomatoes plus any juice from the can.  Stir well.  Bring to boil, then cover and reduce heat to low.   Let it simmer on its own for 45 minutes or so, until vegetables are tender.

Add preserved lemon, chopped fine, or the juice of 1 fresh lemon.  Add sea salt to taste.

Just before serving, stir in finely chopped parsley and cilantro.

Serve over whole grain couscous.

Serves 4-6.