It has been in the negative temperatures for the past five days, and barely above zero degrees for another four days. To add insult to injury, the roads are caked in a white salt coating, the skies are a perpetual state of gray, and the exposed vegetation on yards and lawns is brown and dead. The dry, windy, bitter atmosphere is sucking the life out of me – I can literally feel my attitude and outlook sag as these nasty January days wear on. Ugh.
To complete my 101 project in the 1001 days allotted, I try to do one task every 1-2 weeks. This week my energy level is weak (get it? ha ha), so I decided to go a little easy on myself and complete one of the simpler tasks still left to do: try a new vegetable.
As a kid I wasn’t an overly picky eater. While I had my quirks (as all children do), I mostly ate whatever was put in front of me – that simply was the expectation in our household. I did balk at a few vegetables (beets, Brussels sprouts, and lima beans are the ones that come immediately to mind), but these items were rarely served, and when they did make an appearance I only had to eat one or two bites. (Interestingly, as an adult I have grown to actually enjoy those once avoided veggies – save the lima beans. I still can’t choke those down, no matter how they are prepared.)
While grocery shopping this week, I had planned on just picking up a vegetable I had never tasted before during my usual walk through the produce aisle. I’d take the new item home, chop it up, maybe bake or sauté it, and assess. Easy.
Oh, famous last words. At the grocery store with the largest produce section in the city, I started at the far left-hand side of the fresh vegetable racks and started walking past the offerings. I had planned on picking up whatever new vegetable I walked by first; but quickly I was reaching the end of the assortment with no new veggie in my hands. I passed: celery, radish, spinach, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, rapini, mushrooms, okra, zucchini, cabbage (green and red), parsnips, a variety of lettuces and greens (endive, radicchio, arugula, chard, kohlrabi, kale, collards), bok choy, beets, squash, eggplant, a variety of peppers (red, yellow, orange, green)… I was quickly running out of options. Finally, near the end of the produce run at the bottom of a bin, I saw a family of misfit veggies: sunchokes, daikon, burdock root, turnips, and rutabaga. A quick bit of research on my phone informed me that sunchokes were a tuber, similar to a potato. Since I’ve had potatoes (and consider them a starch, not a vegetable), I ruled them out. Next I learned that daikon is a variety of radish – and since I’ve had radishes, I passed on this option as well. More searching revealed that burdock root is more of an herbal cure and garnish than a full-on vegetable, so I kept walking. Literally at the end of the line, I faced a bin of turnips, and a bin of rutabaga:
I picked up one of each. They looked very similar to one another, as if they were siblings:
After a few moments of contemplation, I struggled to make a decision. My mind then literally said, “Oh, what the hell, just get ‘em both!” So I did.
Returning home with one small turnip and one small rutabaga, I walked into the kitchen ready to taste them – and realized I had absolutely no idea how to prepare them. Is a person supposed to peel them, or eat the skin? Are they best consumed baked? Roasted? Boiled? I was clueless. Time to do more research.
After poking around the internet for several minutes, I knew little more than when I started. I didn’t find any amazing recipes for either of these apparently unloved vegetables, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I returned to the kitchen, pulled a cutting board from the drawer and a knife from the block, and started experimenting.
The first thing I did was cut a thin slice from each vegetable, and simply taste the raw flesh, just to try and assess what I was dealing with. The rutabaga tasted like a very mild, semi-sweet radish, and the turnip tasted like a semi-sweet white potato, but markedly less starchy. Hmm… this didn’t exactly help me a lot.
Since both of their textures were similar to a white potato, I decided to turn these veggies into a simple mash – I figured this would be one the best ways to experience their true flavors. Returning to the cutting board, I diced each veggie, boiled the pieces in hot water until fork-tender (about 6 minutes), drained the cooked veggies, and smashed the softened bits in a bowl with a dab of butter, a splash of cream, and some salt and pepper.
The turnip mash tasted like a combination of smashed cooked cauliflower and red radish puree; the rutabaga mash tasted like a smash of cooked cauliflower and yellow summer squash. Both of the mashes were “fine” (I had no difficulty eating either one), but neither smash was exceptional or incredibly noteworthy. I wouldn’t avoid these vegetables in the future (i.e., I wouldn’t push a dish away just because it contained turnips or rutabagas), but I wouldn’t seek them out, either. If I had pick a favorite between the two, I would say that the rutabaga wins by a small margin – mostly because I don’t like the taste of red radishes. But both vegetables were too bland to be overly problematic; they were just so, plain. Meh. Whatever.
Finishing the two mashes, I looked down and saw that I still had some raw vegetables on the cutting board. Now that I knew the flavor profile of these items, I decided to use up the last of these two veggies by creating my own dish. I again diced the turnip and rutabaga, boiled the bits for six minutes, and drained the cooked pieces. I then added a handful of shredded and steamed greens, a half-handful of diced-and-sautéed yellow onion, a dab of butter, a splash of cream, and a few grinds each of salt and pepper.
This new creation was also “fine”, but nothing overly amazing. I suspect if I dinked around the kitchen some more I might have been able to create a more compelling dish; if I chose to play with a variety of spices and cooking techniques, I’m sure I could have arrived at something cool. But I didn’t want to invest the time or energy. That, and I was out of turnip and rutabaga.