Turnips: Making a main course out of an ugly duckling

Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post - Turnip and Potato Patties With Chickpea Salsa.

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Pity the poor turnip. So maligned, so misunderstood.

I’m guilty of such myself. Just last week, on a visit to the H Street FreshFarm Market, I muttered to myself at one farmer’s stand, “Well, I guess we’re getting down to turnips, aren’t we?” It was an exaggeration; I also bought kale, carrots, parsnips and more. But this is the time of year when I start to worry that the fresh, seasonal vegetable pickings are about to get slim. It didn’t help that I had just moved to the neighborhood and that the H Street market had only one more week before closing until spring.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

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It’s true that when all the sexier vegetables start to fade for the year, those ugly-duckling root vegetables like turnips and rutabagas demand attention, if only by default.

But you know how the ugly ducking story goes, right? And sure enough, turnips certainly can have appeal. As a member of the brassica family of vegetables (related to cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower and more), turnips are plenty nutritious and so easy to cook. Quick, even. That is, if you even cook them. Baby turnips, which don’t need peeling, can be sliced and eaten raw as you would a radish, but even the bigger ones (and turnips can get plenty big) can be peeled and grated for salads. Or you can braise, roast, glaze — or boil and mash them, of course.

When I got a couple of those big turnips home from the market, I looked around for ways to make a main course out of them, worrying that such a thing might be easier said than done. Then a treatment for turnip and potato patties, studded with scallion greens, turned up on SimplyRecipes.com, and I was hooked.

They don’t sound like a main course, you say? Well, once I decided to top them with a quick chickpea salsa, and to stack them next to greens, they did to me. Tasted like one, too.

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