Monday, July 25, 2011

Meatless Monday: Market Find of the Week…

… is the Hakurei Turnip (Brassica rapa). Yes, these compact, white globes ARE turnips.

I frequently buy from a particular purveyor of organic produce at CitySeed’s Wooster Square Market. His stock of lettuce was so bountiful earlier in the summer (when the days were sunny and cool and rain fell nightly) that he once held a “fire sale” and we enjoyed a backpack full of a variety of baby lettuces at a rock bottom price. This week I was attracted by his huge stack of cucumbers, the sale item of the week. As I was putting a half dozen in my bag, I noticed the display of nicely washed, off-white roots set out for sampling. I munched one as suggested. It tasted like a radish, but without any overpowering zing. The price was pretty reasonable — $2.00 for a generous bunch. I was hooked.

This friendly farmer couldn’t explain the turnip’s Asian-sounding name.  I Googled Hakurei Turnip later, and here is what I found out. Turnips belong to the same species as the plant commonly known as field mustard. Since prehistoric times turnips have been a valuable source of food in Europe — for humans (the small variety) and animal fodder (the larger versions). They were introduced to the New World in 1541. According to food blogger Corky Pollan, “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.”
Turnips are low in calories while high in Vitamin C; the greens have about three times the Vitamin C of the root and are rich in calcium and a number of other nutrients. [Any greens still attached to the root and in good shape can be washed well and steamed or added to a stir fry.] 

While no temperature records were broken on Saturday, it was still plenty hot. What I really wanted for dinner was a cool, crispy salad, hence my quest for cucumbers. I found this recipe for Cucumber and Hakurei Turnip Salad online, and I followed it exactly [except for substituting a food processor for the mandoline, which I lack and which is probably too dangerous for me]. I served the salad over a bed of mesclun greens, topped with a bit of Swiss cheese for added protein. This salad was easy to make, deliciously refreshing and satisfyingly crunchy.

I understand that Hakurei turnips can also be roasted, but turning on my oven to bake something that tastes great raw doesn’t seem very green or wise right now. I'm going to stick with the salad for the rest of the bunch.

Next Saturday I’ll be searching for round, yellow cucumbers like the one the farmer was chomping on during our transaction. I was told the cucumber was an heirloom variety, the first one ready for harvest, and that I should check back next week for more. Such a tease! If I do find round cucumbers, I’ll be sure to let you know.   

Until then, stay cool, and please come back soon for more food facts or my latest produce discovery. Thanks for reading.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”


  1. These turnips are really great raw in a salad. Here's what I do:

    2 bunches of turnips, sliced thinly (make one of the bunches radishes if you like it spicey!)

    1 bunch of scallions, sliced
    1/4 c sliced or slivered almonds
    1/4 c chopped mint
    juice of 1 lemon
    drizzle of olive oil
    salt to taste

    Toss ingredients well. Chill for an hour to blend the flavors.


  2. As soon as I can get my hands on some mint, I'll give this a try. Thanks!