Turnips: The Unlikely Face of Winter Cheer

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Having previously waxed poetic about turnips – specifically the petite variety known as Hakurei – it may seem repetitive to sing their praises again. Yet as winter’s darkest days dissipate and spring creeps ever closer,  I can think of no better way to celebrate the season than with a feast of these knobby roots. Their mild, crisp bite is enough to appease even the crankiest cold weather haters, while their humble appearance appeals to those of us with an unexplained penchant for the unloved castaways of the vegetable bin.

In Japan, I almost never cooked with turnips, in part because I was unsure what to do with them. Growing up in a household somewhat averse to brassicas and their cruciferous ilk, turnips were low on the vegetable totem pole. One recent evening, in a fit of dinner desperation, I pulled a bunch from the fridge and placed them on a cutting board, unsure why I’d purchased them in the first place. Boiling and buttering in the European tradition seemed an inappropriate treatment for these particularly delicate specimens, while pan-roasting, a delicious turnip technique popularized by Andrea Reusing, seemed to require too much time and effort at that late hour. Simmering in dashi would have been the classic Japanese preparation, but even this level of simplicity would have demanded an inordinate amount of time, effort, or both. Finally, it hit me: why not raw?

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Cut into wedges and dipped in leftover homemade mayonnaise (seasoned to the hilt with raw garlic), the unassuming roots almost made a meal in themselves. Aside from the slight effort of whipping oil into egg yolks, a platter of raw turnips served in this manner provide a nearly do-nothing path to deliciousness. Better yet, I’ve discovered, are the slightly larger yellow variety – as mild and refreshing as their white cousins, yet infinitely cheerier, especially in the doldrums of mid-February. After languishing for one too many weeks at the bottom of the fridge, these particular specimens had sprouted at the top, the pale green tufts a teasing reminder of warm weather’s eventual arrival. Paired with fragrant, sunny yuzu mayonnaise, they’re also proof that winter – taken on its own terms – can be just as sweet as any spring.

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Raw Turnips with Yuzu Mayonnaise – 生かぶと柚子のマヨネーズ

Makes about 1 3/4 cups mayonnaise

If you can’t find yuzu, substitute Meyer lemons, which most closely approximate the floral fragrance and subtle acidity of that elusive Japanese citrus.

2 (very fresh) egg yolks, at room temperature

2 tablespoons strained yuzu juice

1/2 heaping teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 cup canola oil

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated yuzu zest

Small turnips, trimmed and cut into wedges (daikon or other radishes, endive, and carrots work well, too)

Have all ingredients for the mayonnaise at room temperature. (If your eggs are cold, let them sit in a bowl of warm water for about 20 minutes to take the chill off).

Whisk together the egg yolks, yuzu juice, salt, and mustard. Mix together the canola oil and olive oil in a measuring cup with a spout. Starting with just a drop at a time, begin whisking the oil into the egg yolks. Continue adding the oil in a very thin stream, whisking constantly and stopping as necessary to fully emulsify the mixture. (If the mayonnaise becomes too stiff to whisk, dribble in a little more yuzu juice as needed to thin it out.) Once the egg yolks have absorbed about 3/4 of the oil, you can incorporate the rest more quickly.

Once all the oil has been incorporated, stir in the yuzu zest and season to taste with salt.

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6 thoughts on “Turnips: The Unlikely Face of Winter Cheer

  1. Pingback: Be My Valentine, Japan « SLAVE to TASTE

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