We have been eating turnips, the humble root vegetable, for more than 4000 years. But many people don’t know that turnip greens, the leafy tops of the root vegetable, are also edible and nutritious. Now you can eat even more of this vegetable, by turning the bi-product, turnip leaves, into delicious and healthy dishes. Let’s find out more.
What are Turnips?
Turnips are members of the Brassicaceae family and are related to both the radish and arugula. The round, bulbous turnip roots are often large, white and ringed with purple making them easy to identify at the local farmers’ market.
Though turnips can also be uniformly white, golden and crimson, among many other colors, sizes and shapes. In fact, turnips come in over 30 different varieties, including ones grown specifically for their leaves.
Turnips suffers from an undeserved reputation for being bland and suitable only for livestock feed. In part, this is because we have been eating turnips for so long. Turnips made up an important part of the human diet in both Roman and medieval times and were also fed to livestock.
With salt and spices in short supply, and cane sugar undiscovered, turnips would almost certainly have been bland. Turnips were eaten purely for their calorific value, ease of cultivation, and capacity to be stored during the winter months.
The culinary world has evolved considerably since those far-off days. And today all parts of the turnip can be turned into mouth-watering additions to our modern dishes.
What About Turnip Leaves?
Turnip greens refers to the leafy tops and stems of the turnip plant and both are entirely edible.
If the root of this versatile vegetable has been somewhat neglected in recent years, that is doubly true of turnip leaves. Because they continue to draw nutrients and moisture from the bulb after it has been harvested, most supermarkets tend to cut off the turnip leaves and dispose of them to extend their shelf life.
When you consider that in the US, 80 billion pounds (4 million tons) of perfectly edible food is wasted each year, this is one of many opportunities where we can be more responsible with our eating.
Where to Find Turnip Leaves?
You are unlikely to find turnip leaves in your local supermarket, but at farmers’ markets, the vegetables are usually sold with their leaves still attached.
You can also harvest your own turnip leaves by snipping a few young leaves off of this easy-to-grow root vegetable. Just leave enough leaves in place to provide for the root that will continue to grow beneath the soil and will need leaves to supply its energy.
It’s worth noting that turnip leaves are rapidly gaining the recognition they rightly deserve. And there are now some shops that sell them. Try your local health food shop. If they don’t yet supply them, they soon will once they realize there is a demand.
Can You Eat All of the Turnip Leaf?
All parts of the turnip leaf are edible but they get tougher as they mature. This is particularly true of the thick stem that runs up the center of the leaf. Don’t let that put you off.
If you treat turnip greens in the same way as you would kale, you can eat all parts of this leaf. And the beauty is that you might not have had to pay a cent for what most people regard as waste!
What Do Turnip Leaves Taste Like?
Turnip leaves can be harvested at all stages of growth and their age definitely affects their taste.
Young turnip leaves are tender, tasting of mild slightly sweet greens. While older turnip leaves becomes more peppery and slightly bitter tasting.
As a relative of mustard, turnip greens have a similar flavor profile. And like mustard leaves, as turnip leaves mature, the sulfur levels increase which causes the spicy, bitter flavor.
Young turnip leaves are often added to salads, while mature leaves are usually cooked.
Both young and mature turnip greens can be eaten raw. But remember the older the leaves become, the tougher they will get. So think about cooking them if the turnip leaves you are using are on the larger side.
Storing Turnip Leaves
Like many edible leaves, turnip leaves will remain edible for about four or five days if kept in the refrigerator.
Wash your harvested turnip leaves in cold water. You can then soak them for five minutes or so in a basin containing salted water. This will ensure that they are absolutely clean. The salt in the water helps to get rid of any pests that may be lingering.
After that, flick off the excess water and place the turnip leaves loosely in a zip lock bag and place them in the vegetable tray. They can be stored with other leafy crops such as lettuce.
The sooner you use them, the nicer turnip greens will be both in terms of taste and texture.
Don’t cram the bag full as this will result in more rapid deterioration of the leaves.
If you are needing to store your turnip leaves for longer than just a few days, freezing them is a viable option. Wash the leaves as above, chop them into small pieces, give them a 2-3 minute blanch in boiling water. Drain and place them in a freezer in a plastic bag or container.
Frozen turnip leaves lose too much texture to be eaten raw but are perfect for cooked dishes such as soups and stews.
Nutritional Advantages of Turnip Greens
Here’s one that might surprise you. The leafy turnip greens that we have been carelessly throwing on the compost pile for generations come with more vitamins and minerals than the actual turnip bulb itself. That’s right. You’ve been throwing away the best bits!
What’s more, as a crop that grows over the winter months, turnip leaves are on hand at a time when other greens are rare.
Add to that the fact that turnip greens contain some of the highest vitamin A content and are a rich source of both vitamins C and K. There is plenty of reason to be considering including these overlooked greens in some of your dishes.
Turnip Greens Recipe Ideas
Whether you use young and tender turnip leaves as an unusual and tasty additive to summer salads, or mature leaves as a cooked ingredient in stews or soups, there are cooking many options available when it comes to turnip leaves. Here are just a few recipe ideas you might like to try out.
These leaves are versatile and they will cope with just about any treatment your culinary imagination cares to throw at them.
Creamed Turnips & Greens – from Eating Well. Add cream to anything and it can turn a humble dish into one that makes you want to lick your plate. And this recipe is no exception. Using turnips as well as turnip greens, this dish is a great alternative to a potato bake.
Turnip Greens and Corn Pone – from Lana’s Cooking. This recipe is a true southern recipe that combines corn pone with turnip leaves.
Spicy Skillet Turnip Greens Recipe – from Add A Pinch. This skillet turnip leaf recipe only takes five minutes to prepare and offers a fine example of both how appetizing the leaves are and how quickly they can be prepared.
Eddie’s Turnip Greens Recipe – from Southern Kitchen. It wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t include at least one soup recipe incorporating turnip leaves. This was originally food for the working classes and soups and stews would have been a big part of their diet.
At least you can now spice things up with salt and spices that they would simply not have had access to. This one comes from the south again where the locals know a thing or two about eating every part of a vegetable.
Raspberry Turnip Greens Smoothie – by Tina Redder. Personally, I find that one of the easiest and most delicious ways to access a load of vitamins in one dish is to prepare myself a smoothie.
They’re quick, simple to prepare and teaming with goodness. Whilst you can toss some turnip leaves into any smoothie with whatever you find in the refrigerator or fruit bowl, here is a recipe that I’m sure will tempt you.
Final Thoughts on Eating Turnip Greens
Incorporating turnip leaves into our diets makes sense for so many different reasons.
First and foremost, is the fact that they offer a cheap and nutritious addition to our recipes. Secondly, turnip leaves are delicious and there for the taking if you are daring enough.
Combine that with the fact that we are becoming more aware of how our tendency to waste food is causing environmental harm, and you have every reason for looking at turnip greens from a different point of view.