It’s not often you hear people waxing rhapsodic over turnips, but these snow white little globes are so crisp and sweet you too will be singing their praises. I was introduced to the Japanese Hakurei by chef Dan Barber who serves these beauties with just a sprinkling of salt when you sit down to dinner at Stone Barns. Though the Hakurei has developed something of a cult following in recent years, you’re not likely to find them anywhere but at farmers' markets.
Turnips are one of the world's oldest cultivated vegetables and they have a rich history. They were a well-established crop in Hellenistic and Roman times and later they were known as the "vegetable of nobility" in Europe. They remained an important food staple until the 19 th century when potatoes became the starch of choice.
Hakurei are relatively new turnips that were developed in Japan in the '50s when the country was suffering from severe food shortages due to World War II. Their surprisingly delicate, almost fruity flavor and crunchy texture accounts for their popularity. They’re delicious raw, but if you can resist the urge to simply pop them in your mouth, try shaving them into salads or slaws along with thinly sliced apples or pears. When cooked, they develop a buttery flavor and when roasted at high temperatures, their sweetness increases. The turnip tops are also tasty quickly sautéed with garlic in olive oil.
- Hakurei turnips are versatile enough to pair with just about anything, and they’re excellent in gratins, stir-fries, soups, or roasted with other root vegetables. They can be braised, fried, glazed, or sautéed.
- There’s no need to peel the Hakurei, simply trim the ends and wash them under cold water. The green tops do need a more thorough washing.
- Hakurei turnips are a starch vegetable, yet they provide only one-third of the calories of an equal amount of potatoes making them ideal for dieters.
- Turnips are an excellent source of vitamin C, folic acid, and fiber, as well as thiamine, potassium, and vitamins B6 and E.
- When you remove the green tops, the turnips can be stored in the crisper drawer of the fridge for a week to ten days.