Sunday, May 18, 2008

Taste the Place: Touting Turnips and Radishes with TableTalkPortland!

As underappreciated vegetables go, I'm not sure it gets any worse than turnips. It's possible that parsnips are less popular in the polls, but turnips don't exactly bring the masses to the Waterfront in throngs 75,000 strong, so to speak.

So we had our work cut out for us Saturday morning at Taste the Place, the Portland Farmer's Market booth dedicated to giving geeky vegetables makeovers and adorning them with oil and herbs and aromatics and sea salt and dressing them up in little white sample cups and pushing them into the Market limelight. Our mission today: laud the little-known Japanese turnip, and reveal the allure of ordinary red radishes.

Michelle was supposed to pick me up so we'd sort of be on time for our 8 am Taste the Place shift but of course she was late, so I had to walk halfway down W. Burnside to meet her, grumbling all the way. In a screech of tires and angry honking, she stopped traffic so I could jump into her little blue Miata convertible and we were off with more screeching and honking, the wind blowing our unwashed "it was a late Friday night" hair into unsightly tangles.

"You're always late," I said grumpily. "Stick a Japanese turnip in it, Sis," she replied gaily. "Drive faster," I ordered. "We have spring root veggies to promote."

Once finally ensconced in the Taste the Place booth, we joined volunteers Mary Ellen and Cara and PFM Site Manager Amber Holland in transforming piles of unassuming young spring turnips and radishes into gorgeous and highly palatable Taste the Place superstars.

I regarded our pile of Winter Green Farm Japanese turnips, or kabu, as one little Japanese-immersion school educated little patron informed us they are called. Kabu are actually the Giselle Bundchens of the turnip family—with their small, creamy white bulbs, they look like radishes carved from marble and have a deliciously mild, mellow flavor that allows them to be consumed raw. We decided to steam them lightly and toss them with extra virgin olive oil, fresh parsley, lemon zest, and sea salt. Incredibly quick and simple, and a big hit with even the most dubious turnip tester. (Recipe below)

As the turnip greens piled up, Amber began sautéeing them with a little butter and green garlic, turning them into an easy side dish that more than one passerby described as "amazing."

To my right, on the Radishes Brigade, Michelle and Mary Ellen were busy slicing firm fresh little red radishes into paper thin slices and tossing them with lemon juice, olive oil, a chiffonade of the radish greens, and hard-boiled egg to create a bright, savory radish salad (Recipe below). The recipe was courtesy of Castagna Executive Chef Elias Cairo, who was kind enough to answer our plea for a recipe that would make the humble "aw shucks, just serve me with butter and a sprinkle of salt" radish as glamorous as Scarlett Johanssen in a Dolce and Gabbana gown for a day.

We left the Taste the Place booth Saturday feeling as though we'd done our part to make radishes and turnips a little more alluring. Bunches of Japanese turnips and radishes peeking out of canvas shopping bags in tow, Michelle zoomed home. After all, it was nearly Saturday evening, and we had to wash our hair.


Radishes come in many shapes and sizes, in shades of red, white and purple. The most common radish found in America is the oval, red-skinned variety, and is roughly the size of a cherry tomato. Daikon, a long, white, cylindrical variety, is used primarily in Asian and Indian cooking. Radishes are available year round, but are at their peak in the summer months. They are a great source of Vitamin C and rich in iron.

Shopping and Serving Tips
Buy firm, unblemished radishes with bright green leaves still attached. To store, break the leaves off (they are edible), put the roots in a plastic bag, and keep refrigerated no more than a week. Soak radishes in ice water for 1-2 hours before serving for extra crispness.

by Elias Cairo, Executive Chef, Castagna

1 bunch radishes, about 7-10 total, plus greens
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of salt, dash of pepper
1 hard-boiled egg, coarsely chopped

Thinly slice radishes and finely chop radish greens. Toss with lemon juice and olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Gently mix in egg.

Note: If radishes are too spicy, add a dash of sugar to temper.


Quite different from their heartier fall/winter cousins, Japanese turnips are prized for their crisp white flesh and mild sweet flavor. They are high in fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, folate, calcium, potassium and copper.

Shopping and Serving Tips
The turnips’ skin should be smooth and firm. If possibly, buy turnips with leafy greens attached, greens should be bright and healthy. Store in crisper drawer of refrigerator for up to 10 days. Young turnips can be eaten raw, grated into salads or as crudites. They are also delicious steamed or braised.

I bunch Japanese turnips, about 1 lb
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Cut turnips into wedges and steam until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Toss with olive oil, parsley and lemon zest. Salt to taste.

Note: Turnip greens can be sautéed and served alongside turnips.



  1. I am so glad I found you! You have a new full time reader!!

  2. Hey there Waist High, we are so glad to have you! Join us for a Table For Twelve sometime, we can dis Bakersfield together. We'd ALWAYS drive through Bakersfield on family summer road trips, and I never wanted to get out of the car. haha