If the word ‘turnips” doesn’t make your heart go pitter-patter there’s a good chance you’re suffering from the after-effects of Araac Syndrome (Ate Rutabagas As A Child). Let’s face it, rutabagas are to gastronomic pleasure what Miss Hannigan is to social work. Not to worry. We have the cure for what ails you: Stir-Fried Hakurei Turnips with Dried Shrimp, Chiles, Garlic and Lime.
In an earlier post Jody and I used Macombers, the turnip equivalent of Vidalia onions, to ameliorate some of this damage. But while we live within a sweet turnip’s throw of Macomber fields, good luck finding a bagful anywhere else. Fortunately an alternative has arrived in the form of the Hakurei, a delicious Japanese variety, now available in chi-chi restaurants and farmers markets coast to coast. According to the Food Channel (cough, cough) Hakureis were developed by the Japanese in the 1950’s as a response to food shortages following the Second World War. As any new parent soon learns, the first requirement of any novel food designed to supplement the public diet is that it taste good, or at least not taste dreadful (R.I.P. oat bran muffins), otherwise it ends up on the floor. No matter how nutritious. I think I’ve mentioned how difficult it was to get my mother and my mother-in-law to try Macomber turnips because of their experience with rutabagas during WW II. Believe me, Hakureis are up to the task. Small, white and almost fruity, they’re guaranteed to lure back turnip exiles. In fact they’re so good you’d think they would have gotten a little more traction before now. I was able to find a 2007 reference to them in New York magazine, which goes to show what a culinary backwater I live in, because I’d never heard of them until a few years ago. These days, they’re popping up as everyone’s favorite new root vegetable. Clearly we are just beginning to plumb a deep reach of turnip desire. To my palate, their mild flavor recalls the taste of breakfast radishes, if you made breakfast radishes a little bit sweet. If you slow-roast them Hakureis they become even sweeter. They require no peeling, you can add them to salads raw, and their greens are also delicious when cooked. Stir-fried, they’re an easy side for a baked whole fish. Served alone, all you need is a little rice and you’ve got a plant-centric lunch for four. It’s conceivable that in the future, with a little assist from Hakureis, “Eat your turnips!” might even come to mean Hey, do something nice for yourself. Enjoy. Ken
Stir-Fried Hakurei Turnips with Dried Shrimp, Chiles, Garlic and Lime
Makes 4 servings
- 2 bunches small Hakurei turnips with greens attached (about 16 turnips)
- 3 tablespoons high-heat vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons small dried shrimp
- 3-5 bird peppers (see Jody Notes)
- 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- Juice of 3 Key limes or 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- Soak the turnips in tepid water for 15 minutes. Rub the bulbs to remove the dirt, particularly at the point where the greens meet the bulb. You don’t need to peel them. Rinse the leaves under running water.
- Heat the vegetable oil over high in a wok. Add the shrimp, stir fry until toasted, about 1 minute, stirring constantly, then remove to a plate and reserve. Add the turnips. Sear all over for about 3 minutes. Add the peppers and garlic and stir fry until the garlic starts to brown. Add ¼ cup water, cover, and then cook until the turnips are just tender, about 6 minutes. Remove the cover, add the lime juice, soy sauce, honey and sesame oil. Toss a few times and then transfer to a platter and serve warm or at room temperature topped with the fried shrimp.
These sweet little turnips are really fun to work with and take to bold seasonings like soy sauce, sesame oil and lime. If you have larger turnips, cut them in half or smaller so they cook evenly. If you are concerned that the greens will overcook before the turnips are done, cut them off the bulbs and add them in a few minutes after the turnips have been in the wok.
Thai bird peppers are hot, but nothing like scotch bonnets. You can increase the heat by slicing up one of the peppers and adding it–including its seeds–when you add the whole ones.
When I got home from the restaurant later this evening, that little bowl of fried shrimp you see in the photo above was empty. I think it was Roxanne. They’re addictive–one shrimp and you’re hooked. Fry up an extra batch at your own risk.
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