Turnips are a hard sell. If they were a car, they’d be an old Russian Lada; perfect for times of austerity, but never destined for valet parking or life in the fast lane. They’re not festive food, and they’re certainly not romantic. Even in French, their name (navet) sounds a bit nasty, and like their sulfurous cousins, cabbage, and brussels sprouts, overcooking can transform a warm and cozy kitchen into a steamy institutional canteen. In fact, the more you cook them, the more bitter they become, so it’s for this reason I prefer to eat them raw.
As long as you choose the smaller spring and early winter bulbs; pure white with a blush of purple around their crowns, they’ll behave themselves quite nicely. The truth is, they’re absolutely delicious raw, in fact, the whole cruciferous family has been grossly misrepresented by years of overzealous boiling and stewing; understandable given they’re available during the bleakest of days when a salad is not always what the body craves, but teamed with the right dressing, they are reinvented like a Cinderella in the salad bowl.
I often eat raw turnips simply sliced and dressed with a sprinkling of salt, a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of good olive oil. Incidentally, this is also a great way to eat white cabbage, however, this salad is designed to dazzle the taste buds when cold winds batter the kitchen windows and short days have left your pale skin yearning for sunshine and your taste buds, an upbeat postcard from Asia. It’s the perfect pick-me-up accompaniment to roast chicken, quail or a piece of miso-glazed grilled salmon. It would also be lovely just as it is with a bowl of soba noodles.
In the depths of winter food aesthetics really count. Like the painted winter sky at sunrise, smudged with cheerful crimson and violet, colour feeds the soul. Winter salads are like this. Comforting as slow-cooked stews and soups are, we also need some crunch and a bit of zing to awaken the senses. This salad is a bit like a winter pick me up. If there was a winter palette fairy godmother, I’m sure this is what she’d send: nutty baubles of glossy lime green edamame, crunchy slices of peppery red radish, purple-edged pure white turnips, a scattering of crunchy black sesame seeds and a shiny dressing of sweet and sour rice wine vinegar, warming ginger and toasty sesame oil.