We all know fruits and veggies are best in-season. They’re usually tastier, and definitely more cost-effective. But when temps drop, it seems like our fresh options are extremely limited—especially in Northern climates. But wait! I suggest you look a little harder. There are in fact several lesser known winter vegetables that deserve their fair share of the spotlight! Turnips and rutabagas, for example, are great go-to winter vegetables chock-full of nutrients, and pretty easy to incorporate into recipes.
Turnips vs. Rutabagas
Both turnips and rutabagas are part of the cruciferous family of vegetables (think cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower). Rutabagas are actually the result of a marriage between a turnip and a cabbage. These cruciferous relatives are round in shape, but vary in size from one another. Turnips are best when about 2-3 inches in size, whereas rutabagas tend to be a bit larger, coming in around 4 inches in diameter. Besides their size, you can distinguish the two by their coloring; turnips are usually off-white with a red or purple band near the stem. Rutabagas are an all-over cream color with a tinge of purple. When selecting these vegetables, go for bulbs that are firm to the touch and are free of blemishes or bruises.
The Case for Both
In addition to being cheap and having a long shelf life, turnips and rutabagas are rich in nutrients such as fiber and complex carbohydrates. That means they’re not only filling, but help stabilize blood sugar and energy levels. Turnips and rutabagas also offer quite the hit of vitamin C, which helps grow and repair tissues after that workout we know you did. We’re talking 20 and 30% of your daily requirement of vitamin C per cup for turnips and rutabagas, respectively!
To learn more about the nutrient content of these vegetables, visit the USDA’s nutrient database for turnips and rutabagas. Don’t rush to throw out those turnip stems, either. Those power greens can and should be eaten because they’re full of vitamins like C, A, and K, plus minerals like calcium and iron!
Don’t just eat turnips and rutabagas because they’re good for you. I swear they taste good, too! In general, turnips and rutabagas have a slightly sweet, earthy taste. However, the larger the bulb, the more bitter the taste. Turnips also tend to get woody in texture if they’re larger, so stick to the smaller diameter bulbs (it’s not so much of a concern for rutabagas). Because of their neutral taste, turnips and rutabagas are great in place of other white starchy vegetables like potatoes.
If you’re lacking culinary creativity, have no fear: You can eat both turnips or rutabaga raw. Simply trim the bottom and top off the vegetables and start peeling. A vegetable peeler will suffice for turnips, but rutabagas are generally covered in a thicker wax layer to help seal in moisture. This layer should be removed before eating. Try a paring knife, rather than a vegetable peeler, to ease the peeling process.
To increase their flavor, try cooking the turnips and rutabagas by cutting them into cubes and roasting them with a bit of oil. Similar to other cruciferous vegetables, the flavor increases with cooking (luckily, the strong sulfuric odor associated with other cruciferous veggies does not)!
If you bought a few more than you can consume immediately, remove the greens from the turnips and store the bulbs in a separate bag to use them within several days. Turnips and rutabagas can be stored several weeks in the fridge, however, or up to months in a vegetable cellar.