Full Belly Farm Talks up Tokyo Turnips
They're creamy, mild, minerally, and just right for spring.
These turnips are good nibbled raw, but they are even better steamed, halved, and doused with simple butter and salt.
Photos by Lori Eanes
The Tokyo turnip is an imported vegetable that has passed from Asian cuisine to become more mainstream, with the humble root successfully lending its mild, sweet flavor both to Japanese food as well as to Mediterranean-influenced dishes at places like Pizzaiolo and Chez Panisse.
“Tokyo turnip” is a confusing name, because the term is used at markets here for all Japanese white turnips. Although there are turnip varieties called Tokyo and Tokyo Cross, often what’s marketed as a Tokyo turnip is actually the Hakurei, a particular variety prized for its soft texture. Bred in the 1950s in Japan to help alleviate the food shortages after World War II, they grow practically year-round, and quickly. They are ready to pick at 35 days, when they are about the size of a Ping-Pong ball. In Japan, they’re marketed as peach turnips, because they’re “sweet as a peach.”
Full Belly Farm grows these at its 400-acre farm in Guinda. According to farm co-owner Andrew Brait, shoppers generally eye the white, radish-sized veggie with some trepidation.
“You say turnip, and you can see people’s eyes roll,” Brait says. “And when they see you get excited about it, they think, ‘Is this a classic hyperbole, or is this something good?’ They don’t believe you until they eat it.”
When they do, Brait says they have an Aha! moment. Tokyo turnips have no bitter edge, just a mild, mineral, sweet flavor and a creamy texture.
Although many attest to its deliciousness when steamed, halved, buttered, and treated to some nice, crunchy salt, Brait suggests taking a nibble of it raw. “That’s how I like to eat them. I’ll sauté them, but just get them warm, and soften them a tad, but I don’t want to sacrifice the texture—they’re so evenly creamy.”
The leaves are also delicious. Brait advises sautéing the root, and then throwing the leaves in with olive oil, and perhaps onions or garlic. In spring, use spring onions.
“But don’t do a lot to them,” he advises. “Appreciate them for what they are.”
In our climate, the turnip can grow almost all year around, though as the warm season approaches, some farm production starts to wind down. They are at their best between December and March, when the cold improves their flavor.