We are just coming to the end of our first-ever harvest of Tokyo turnips, aka Japanese baby turnips. They aren’t really babies, but they are really delicious and beautiful and tender and juicy. (The greens are delicate and tasty, too.) We’ve never grown them (or a similar variety called Hakurei that’s popular at farmers’ markets) before, so I am pretty darn excited that they did well, and I can’t wait to grow more. I’m sure our cool weather helped, so I probably won’t seed again until fall.
It’s unusual for me to sell a vegetable at the farm stand that I haven’t cooked with much. And while I could certainly guess by the juicy raw texture and flavor that both minimal cooking (steaming, quick-braising, glazing) and browning (roasting, sautéing and stir-frying) would probably work with these, I couldn’t quickly reference one of my own recipes to help people cook them.
Fortunately, many of our farm stand customers are adventurous and competent cooks, so several of them forged ahead without me! One woman found a recipe for a nice sauté with potatoes in my fellow Island cookbook author friend Cathy Walther’s Greens, Glorious Greens, and on FaceBook, another cookbook author friend, Diane Morgan, suggested finishing a sauté with miso butter. I don’t have Cathy’s Greens book, though I know it’s a classic and well worth checking out, but I do have Diane’s award-winning Roots, and I can tell you there are more than a few really delicious recipes for turnip dishes in it, including one called Kashmiri-Style Turnips with Greens that led me to think I wasn’t crazy to want to pair cilantro (and ginger) with the baby turnips. The cilantro is flourishing in the cool spring garden, alongside the turnip bed.
Today (thank God for the rain!) I finally got a chance to mess around with the Japanese turnips in the kitchen. Since we had sold all the good-sized and blemish-free roots at the farm stand, I was left with only teeny-tiny roots and some bigger damaged roots, so I had no choice but to cut everything about ½-inch in size. (That meant no cutting for the teeniest mini-marbles.) But I think I would favor that size anyway—or wedges if all my roots were similar sized—for the quickest cooking. I did both a quick par-boil and a quick sauté, adding the greens only briefly to wilt at the end in the sauté , and with lemon and butter, found that the baby turnips really do make a super-quick spring side dish.
Then I indulged my desire to go Asian, and did a stir-fry with soba noodles—and ate the whole thing for lunch. (It would have served two easily with some grilled shrimp. Photos very top and below.) Originally I thought I might go all the way and turn it into an Asian noodle soup, as the greens would be so perfect for one of these. (And one small turnip—generally about 2 inches in diameter—has a lot of greens attached.) But I was afraid the turnip roots would get lost in the soup, so I kept it noodle-y. I’m including the recipe below in narrative form, as I wouldn’t want to give you a set-in-stone recipe without testing again with more uniform turnips and more exact proportions.
To make Soba Noodles with Stir-Fried Baby Turnips, Ginger & Cilantro:
Cook a handful of soba noodles separately in boiling water. (Follow the package directions, but shorten the cooking time a bit.) Drain and hold. Get out a non-stick stir-fry pan or a big non-stick sauté pan and heat just a couple teaspoons of vegetable oil (I used grapeseed oil) over medium heat. Add about a cup of diced baby turnip roots (trimmed) and a couple big pinches of kosher or sea salt. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add a teaspoon of chopped fresh ginger, one-half teaspoon of chopped garlic, about ¼ cup thickly sliced spring onions or scallions, and a couple tablespoons of quartered, sliced radishes. (If I’d had a small Serrano pepper, I would have added a bit of it, chopped, too.)
Stir, cooking, until fragrant and a bit softened. Add a half cup of chicken broth or other broth and about 2 cups torn, stemmed turnip greens. Stir until the greens are wilted. Add the soba noodles and stir well to combine. Add a mix of fresh lemon (or lime) juice and soy sauce (one-half to one teaspoon of each or to taste) and a tablespoon or more of torn fresh cilantro leaves. Stir, remove from the heat, transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with a bit more cilantro and some sliced spring onion or scallion green tops. (Serves 1 or 2)
P.S. I almost completely forgot. The first thing I actually did with the baby turnips a few days ago was to add them to one of my slow-sautes with carrots and potatoes. I’d forgotten I had a few in the fridge, and cut them just as a i was starting to cook the potatoes and carrots. They cook a little more quickly than purple-topped turnips, so you can certainly use them deliciously in one of these, but I might add them half-way through cooking.