I am not a lover of turnips. I don't know anyone who is. Turnips are not the life of the party in the vegetable world. That would be asparagus, which everyone is head over heels for at this time of year. But spring is also a good time for baby turnips, whom I fell for last week. Baby turnips, made into a soup, with their greens.
In New Mexico, you could head to the local co-op and find a vast, sprawling line-up of amazing greens, many grown locally. Dandelion greens, broccoli raab, broccolini, dino kale (called cavalo nero in the UK), mustard greens, all sorts. It's a bit harder to produce all of that when you live in the middle of a northern island. But we have an amazing CSA right down the road, and last week we had a small bunch of baby turnips, greens attached, in our share. I was stumped. What to do?
I looked up a recipe for turnip soup with turnip greens by Deborah Madison. Instead of stock, it called for milk. I am also not a huge lover of milk. Maybe a splash in my tea now and then, but not four cups of it, with turnips. But I hadn't made a milky soup in ages, and I decided to throw caution to the wind and plunge ahead with reckless abandon. It was delicious. The next week, there were no turnips in my vegetable box, so I had to beg. I made the soup again, this time with some old potatoes that needed using up (it's almost new potato time) to thicken it. It was, again, delicious. My partner, also a turnip skeptic, loved it.
I thought that a turnip soup recipe might be a nice way of saying thanks for the bonus veggies. I also feel that what the world needs now is greens, bitter turnip greens. They're delicious, especially fried in butter and mixed into a soup that's creamy and sweet. Their bitter crunch balances out the other flavours in the soup. Spring is the time of year to eat plenty of bitter green vegetables - daily if you can - to help cleanse your liver and balance out any lingering effects from winter indulgences (spotty skin, excess weight or water retention, etc.). So say Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. And with all of the amazing green leaves coming into season at the moment, it makes perfect sense to focus on this type of vegetable. I topped my bowl of soup with some walnut pesto, which was really delicious. So delicious that I'm going to have to make that my next recipe.
Turnip Soup with Turnip Greens (and potatoes)
inspired by The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison
3/4 lb (6 - 7 small) turnips, removed from their greens before weighing
All the greens from the turnips (most of the stalks included)
3/4 lb potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 leeks, tough green part discarded, washed and sliced into thin half-circles
6 branches of thyme, plus a few pinches of fresh thyme leaves
2 cups of organic milk
sea or kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
Wash, trim and peel the turnips. Slice them into 1/4" rounds. Peel the potatoes, quarter them if they're large and slice them into 1/2" pieces. Bring a small pot of water to the boil, salt the water and add the turnips and potatoes. Blanch for 1 minute, then drain.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a heavy bottomed soup pot with the olive oil. Add the sliced leeks and cook them in the oil for a few minutes, until they're going translucent. Then add the potatoes, turnips, thyme, 1/2 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon or so of sea salt. Cover and stew all of this over medium low heat for 5 - 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the milk and about 2 cups of pure water, enough to not quite but almost cover the vegetables. Slowly raise the heat without letting the milk boil. Eventually it will simmer a bit, but keep the heat low so it's barely boiling or just under. Cook this way until the turnips and potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile, sort through the greens, remove the ends of the stems and discard any that are too tough. Wash the greens and stems. Chop them into small pieces. Melt the second tablespoon of butter in a medium skillet. Let the butter brown a bit if you like. Toss in the greens, season with salt and pepper and fry them in the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally until they're tender, 5 - 10 minutes.
When the turnips are tender, remove the soup from the heat and puree with a hand blender. Add the turnip greens and stir to incorporate. Season with pepper, taste for salt, stir in some fresh herbs of your choice (thyme, parsley or chives) and serve. I happened to be making pesto at the same time and it made for a really nice garnish, so that's an option too.