Bitter Gets Sweet (I Swear!): A Recipe for Caramelizing Turnips In a Cast Iron Skillet

I know you are thinking I have lost my mind. Last week it was celery root; this week it’s turnips. “Can’t she write about something delicious—or something my family will actually eat?” I hear you asking. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t pass up the chance to tell you about this—the absolutely most delicious way to cook turnips.

In fact, I’ve already written about this technique—slow-sautéing in a cast-iron skillet—once this week. I moonlight as an occasional blogger over at the Huffington Post’s Green Page, and this week I’ve been participating in their latest challenge—The Week of Eating In. At first I felt a little silly saying, “Sure, I’ll eat in for a week,” since I already cook and eat most of my meals at home. (Plus I just recently posted my opinion on why I think everyone else should cook at home more, too!) But then I realized I could help other people in the challenge by posting tasty ideas for cooking veggies at home.  And since I had just made my slow-sautéed turnips, potatoes, carrots, and onions for like the 12th time this winter, I figured I’d share that yummy idea on Huff Post.

Over here, I wanted to post the whole recipe (and a few more photos), and to also let you know that there are many more “slow-sautés” coming in my cookbook, Fast, Fresh, & Green. The recipes in the book were developed for a straight-sided stainless steel sauté pan, since I think more people own them than cast-iron pans. But cast-iron is so perfect for this kind of dish, because it captures and distributes heat so evenly, that I wanted you to be able to try it if you can. (You can get a pre-seasoned Lodge cast iron skillet for about $15.)

I start this kind of sauté by dicing (pretty small but not too fussy) whatever roots I’ve got on hand and piling them into the skillet with lots of olive oil and herb sprigs. The pan will be really crowded at first—that’s okay. As the vegetables cook, they brown and steam at the same time (and they shrink quite a bit). I always add some aromatic allium—onion, leeks, or shallots—about halfway through cooking for added moisture and flavor.

But the most important thing I do is to keep my ears tuned to the sizzling in the pan. It should be a steady, perky sizzle—but nothing too explosive sounding. The sizzle’s your cue to how fast the veggies are cooking. You want them to brown and steam at about the same rate, because your ultimate goal is deeply browned (yes, caramelized) vegetables that are cooked through, too. This is much easier than I’m making it sound. All you need to do is stir every once in awhile and maybe adjust the heat once or twice. The veggies will be done in about 35 to 40 minutes—but you’ll have plenty of time to make whatever else you’re having for dinner while they’re cooking. (By the way, for vegetarians, these sautés are hearty enough to plunk in the middle of the plate.)

Caramelized Turnips, Potatoes, & Carrots with Onions & Thyme

If you don’t have a cast iron pan, you can make this recipe in a 10-inch straight-sided sauté pan (stainless interior). The browning won’t be quite as even, and you might need to add a bit more oil, but the results are still very tasty.


3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more if needed

½ pound purple-topped turnips, trimmed but not peeled, cut into ½-inch dice

½ pound Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into ½-inch dice

½ pound carrots, trimmed and peeled, cut into ½-inch dice

½ teaspoon kosher salt, more if needed

5 to 6 thyme sprigs

1 medium onion (about 5 ounces), cut into medium dice


In a 10 or 11-inch cast iron skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the turnips, potatoes, carrots, salt, and herb sprigs and stir and toss well to combine and to coat with the oil. (The pan will look crowded.) Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring and flipping occasionally with a metal spatula, for about 20 minutes. (Listen to the pan—you should hear a gentle sizzle, not a loud one. If the vegetables are browning too quickly, reduce the heat a bit to maintain that gentle sizzle. If they seem dry, add a bit more olive oil.) Add the diced onion and continue to cook, stirring and flipping with the spatula, until the vegetables are deeply browned and tender all the way through, about another 15 minutes. Remove the herb sprigs before serving. Taste and season with more salt if you like.

Serves 3 to 4

2 thoughts on “Bitter Gets Sweet (I Swear!): A Recipe for Caramelizing Turnips In a Cast Iron Skillet”

  1. I’m so happy I stumbled across your blog. I made this recipe for tonight’s dinner. It was so easy, and delicious. It’s our new favorite! Thank you!

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