Even though they’re stars among Outer Cape roots, turnips have a reputation for humility.
They get along nicely with other earthy vegetables, including carrots, potatoes, beets, and onions.
For the thrifty among us, pairing turnips with their own greens — with the former mashed to bring out their sweetness and the latter sautéed to provide a bitter counterpoint — is a welcome two-for-one.
They’re also easygoing. Those who pride themselves on culinary laziness can cut a turnip in cubes, toss them in oil with other root vegetables (or not), stick them in the oven to roast, and end up with a satisfying side in about a half hour. Serve them over a grain with some salad greens, add a dressing, and you’ve got dinner.
But Niki Segnit, the writer who gets at food in a way that’s almost existential (and has a witty British way with words, too) describes the turnip as a more outgoing root.
In her second compendium, The Flavor Thesaurus: More Flavors, published last spring, she writes that a turnip’s “white-pepper flavor is bound up in a root-vegetable sweetness that is both inherently rustic and enhanced by similarly bawdy partners. Any ingredient described as farmyardy is worth considering as a pairing for turnip.”
Now we’re talking turnips. Some would say the ones grown in Eastham are even better than bawdy — they’re larger and sweeter than other varieties. And I’d argue they’re certainly worthy of a place at the Thanksgiving table.
This recipe, an autumn pilaf that sets turnips upon a throne of fall flavor, is more or less my own; I arrived at it by combining elements of a few of my favorite seasonal dishes. Like many of the recipes I choose to add to my repertoire, this one’s simple both in terms of cooking and cleanup. But I promise its flavors are complex enough to keep your palate entertained. Another plus, if you are making this for Thanksgiving: you don’t need the oven for this dish.
If there’s a run on turnips because of Eastham’s annual festival, which is this coming weekend, feel free to make this with other root vegetables such as carrots or parsnips or with sweet potatoes or winter squash or a combination. You could also try it with other grains like pearl barley or wheat berries, but the earthy chew of wild rice seems like the turnip’s perfect partner to me.
AUTUMN PILAF WITH WILD RICE, MUSHROOMS, AND TURNIPS
Makes 4-6 servings
1 cup wild rice (or wild rice blend)
2 cups water or vegetable broth (or a combination)
1½ tsp. kosher salt, divided
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 large or 2 small ribs celery, diced
8 oz. cremini or shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
10 oz. (about 2 medium or 1 large) turnip, peeled, ends trimmed, and cut into ½-inch dice
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dried)
¼ tsp. ground pepper
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
¼ cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp. fresh sage leaves, chopped
¼ cup sliced almonds or chopped pecans (optional)
- Cook the wild rice with the 2 cups of water or broth in a pot or rice cooker as directed on the package. This takes 35 to 50 minutes depending on your rice and cooking method. Once fully cooked, stir in a half teaspoon salt. Taste and correct the seasoning.
- Meanwhile, warm a large skillet (preferably one with a cover) over medium-high heat and add the oil. Cook the onion and celery until both have softened and start to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes until they release their water and most of the liquid evaporates.
- Add the diced turnip and about 2 tablespoons additional water or broth, plus the thyme, the remaining teaspoon of salt, and the pepper. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until the turnip is fork-tender, stirring occasionally. Cover lightly and add a splash or two of water or broth from time to time if needed.
- Turn off the heat. Add to the skillet the cooked wild rice, maple syrup, mustard, apple cider vinegar, cranberries, sage, and almonds or pecans (if using). Stir to combine and adjust seasonings to taste. Serve warm.