My friend, Kiley, dropped off a big bag of root vegetables that she had inadvertently stockpiled - weeks of CSA overflow. There were turnips and rutabagas and watermelon radishes and a long bumpy piece of horseradish, but I didn't know that when I opened the bag. Apart from the horseradish, they all looked like turnips.
Turnips are one vegetable that I struggle with making delicious. The little tiny ones with their greens attached can be lovely. Quarter them. Seer them in a hot skillet. Add their greens, a swig of apple juice, and some smoked salt, and just do a quick braise - in a few minutes the liquid will be reduced to a light smoky glaze and the turnips will be slightly soft and seriously delicious.
But lovely young turnips with their bright greens were not what I found in this bag. I turned to James Peterson for help. In his book, Vegetables, he insists, "a note of sweetness - port is lovely but sugar will do - also goes well as does anything smoky." He goes on to say, "of course, you must start out with a good turnip." He warns against turnips that are beginning to sprout, those that feel slightly spongy, and suggests you choose turnips that feel heavy for their size.
I was screwed. My sad rejected turnips would need some serious help.
This was not a time for the vegetable purists. This was not an opportunity to bring out the beatiful essence of this precious ingredient. This called for barbecue sauce.
I shredded the turnip on a box grater. Heated the cast iron skillet. Melted a nob of vegan butter. Spread the shreds around in the pan. Sprinkled them with a pinch of salt and a little sugar. (Thank you Mr. Peterson.) Over medium heat, they quickly caramelized. I shredded super firm tofu and stirred it into the pan as well. After five minutes, I had high hopes - the turnips and tofu were dotted with crinkly browned edges and I doused them in good barbecue sauce thinned with a bit of water. I let the pan simmer until the liquid was absorbed while I toasted a bun.
Piled high on that toasted bun, this made an excellent 10 AM breakfast when I finally had a moment to sit down on Friday during a rare morning when both boys were in school at the same time. (Coffee - double check. Water and green smoothie - not so much. I am a work in progress.)
My sandwich was good, so good that I made another batch of tofu and turnips that night for Paul and my dinner after the dudes went to bed.
Then with my intimidatingly-serious-about-food friend, Cindy, coming over for dinner on Saturday night, I confidently busted another big turnip out of the bag and started to make dinner. I sliced into it. Water melon radish! Another. Watermelon radish! Another. Watermelon radish!
Have you ever sliced into a watermelon radish? It is jarring and lovely. On the outside it is so pedestrian - just any old boring interminable winter root vegetable. But the inside? Electric fuschia. I sliced them thin, marinated them with white wine vinegar, sea salt, and olive oil, and we nibbled them with cocktails.
I grabbed another root from the bag. This was a pale yellow inside, instead of the bright white of the turnip that I was expecting. On a hunch, I googled rutabagas. Yep. Also know as yellow turnips. I peeled it and shredded it. Raw, it tasted much milder than the white turnip, slightly sweet, no noticable bitterness - so I skipped the sugar - and it still caramelized beautifully. And made an excellent sandwich.
Yesterday, I switched to Kiley's CSA. I have my fingers half-way crossed that winter will last a little bit longer - that there will be more rutabagas.
Pulled Rutabaga Sandwiches (yes. seriously.)
makes: 4 or 5 big sandwiches
takes: about 20 minutes
- 1/2 pound super firm tofu
- 1 medium rutabaga (about 1/2 pound), peeled
- 1 tablespoon vegan butter
- big pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
- 1/2 cup water or beer
- 4 buns
- your favorite cole slaw
- hot sauce
In a large cast iron or non-stick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Grate the rutabaga with a box grater and spread it around in the hot butter. Sprinkle with salt, stir, and let it caramelize, turning once or twice until browned, about 5 - 7 minutes. Grate the tofu as well, and stir it into the pan. Let it brown. Turning once or twice, this should take about 5 more minutes. Mix the barbecue sauce and water or beer together and pour over the tofu and rutabagas scraping up any browned bits. Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer in the sauce for 5 more minutes.
Toast the buns, spread with veganaise if you like (I do.), pile on the barbecue, adding a swirl of sriracha if you like (Me.), heap on the coleslaw, and cap with the other bun. Devour immediately.