I love a versatile vegetable, especially one with an interesting back story.

While run-of-the-mill turnips date back to 2000 B.C, the Hakurei turnip, sometimes called Japanese or Tokyo turnips, were developed in Japan in the 1950s when the country was suffering from severe food shortages in the aftermath of World War II. They grow fast and tolerate all kinds of weather, useful traits if you need to produce nutritious food quickly.

From seed to harvest, the turnaround time on Hakurei turnips is 30 to 38 days. Seeds can go into barely thawed soil and their seedlings don’t mind a light springtime frost, which is why they are prolific in farmers markets in Maine now, sold in bunches of six to eight for about $5. Farmers can keep reseeding these turnips throughout the summer and into fall as more mature leaves can handle fall frost, too.

As members of the Brassica family, these snowy white, golf ball-sized taproots, are a great source of vitamin C. Their leafy greens are even more nutritious as they offer vitamins A, C, and K as well as folate and calcium.

Unlike other turnips, Hakurei turnips don’t need to be peeled and can be eaten raw, which is why they are colloquially referred to as salad turnips here in the United States. Eaten raw, they are crisp, sweet and slightly peppery. The greens are tender and taste a bit like mustard greens.

Cut the greens from the turnips and store them separately. Use the greens within two days. Michele McDonald/Staff Photographer

In “Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 recipes,” cookbook author Diane Morgan advises separating the roots from their greens as soon as you get home from the market, leaving about an inch of the stem attached to the roots. If the tops are left on, they will draw moisture, flavor and nutrients out of the taproot. Store the roots and leaves (unwashed) separately, in bags lined with a towel to wick away moisture. The turnips will last up to a week, but the greens should be eaten within two days as they are best fresh.

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I slice them like radishes, put them in a bowl with their own greens, and toss them with a basic vinaigrette. The mustard emulsifying the dressing plays well with all parts of the salad turnip. Served with a nice piece of local fish cooked on the grill, the salad makes an easy weeknight meal. Sliced and quick pickled, Hakurei turnips are a great addition to any grilled meat that has an Asian flare, like chicken teriyaki or beef bulgogi.

But I beg you not to shy away from cooking any part of the Hakurei turnip bundle you bring home. They only get sweeter with a little heat. They are best braised, roasted or stir-fried. Here, I match them up with a few ingredients found in traditional Japanese cuisine, giving a nod to the part of the world where they came from.

Begin by sautéing the Hakurei turnips in miso, butter and honey. Michele McDonald/Staff Photographer

Japanese White Turnips with White Miso Glaze

I like a mix of shiitake and enoki mushrooms in this dish.

Serves 4 as a side dish

1 bunch Hakurei turnips, leaves attached
2 tablespoons white miso
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Leaving an inch of the stem attached to the turnips, use a sharp knife to separate the bulbs from the leaves. Wash the leaves and turnips separately. Cut the turnips into 1/2-inch wedges. Snap the tougher stems from the tender leaves. Cut the stems into 1/4-inch pieces. Keep the leaves whole.

Place the turnips, miso, 2 tablespoons butter and the honey in a medium skillet. Add enough water to just cover vegetables. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook the turnips, turning occasionally, until they are tender, and liquid had reduced by half, 10-15 minutes. Keep cooking the turnips, until they are golden brown and caramelized and the sauce thickens to glaze the vegetables, about 5 minutes more. Add the lemon juice and a splash of water to pan and swirl to coat turnips. Transfer the turnips and glaze to a bowl and keep warm.

Mixed local mushrooms, including shiitake, enoki and oyster are prepped and ready to be sautéed in butter. Michele McDonald/Staff Photographer

Wipe the pan clean, return it to the stove over medium high heat, and add remaining 2 tablespoons butter. When the butter bubbles, add the mushrooms and stir to coat in fat. Cook the mushrooms, without disturbing them until they brown on one side, 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped turnip stems and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more. Add the turnip greens and 2 tablespoons water and cover. Steam the greens until they are wilted, about 2 minutes. Transfer the greens and mushrooms to a plate. Nestle the cooked turnips into them. Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top. Serve warm.


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