Monday, August 24, 2015

Turnips, rutabaga, and's all in the family.

Have you ever been confused about the differences between kohlrabi, turnips, and rutabaga?  Or have you just ever wonder what the heck they are?  Would you know one if you met it on the street?  Well I'm here to straighten all of us out, including myself, on the ins and outs of these three root vegetables.

It's about that time at the farmers' market.  Potatoes, onions, radishes, rutabaga....what?  What's a rutabaga?  And how do you pronounce it anyhow?  Here's how it goes:  root-a-beg-a.  Say it out loud. 


The word rutabaga comes from the Swedish word Rotabagge, meaning "ram root. It is also known as a Swedish turnip or yellow turnip. 

So then what's the difference between a turnip and a rutabaga?  It turns out that rutabagas and turnips come from the cabbage family.  As does the kohlrabi, for that matter, as is cauliflower and broccoli. 

The rutabaga is actually a hybrid of a turnip and a cabbage.  Where the rutabaga tends towards a yellowish flesh, the turnip is white.  Kohlrabi is often called a cabbage turnip. 

These three root vegetables have a sad history of neglect in the culinary world.  They aren't fancy or pretty; they are often misunderstood.  But it seems that more attention has recently been giving to these outcasts.  In fact, all three are great companion vegetables.

Let's take a look at each and see how they can be prepared.  We'll start with turnips.  When choosing turnips at the market, make sure the skin is smooth.  They should be firm with crisp green tops.  They will have a sweet aroma.  For an easy side dish, choose small turnips, which are sweeter and more tender.  Peel the turnips and cut them into wedges.  Slice some fresh garlic.  Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add the turnips and garlic.  Saute until tender.  Add the turnips greens, if you like, and cook until the greens are wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  Plate and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

Now for rutabagas.  A ripe rutabaga will have tinges of purple on the skin.  Make sure you get one that is firm and not wrinkly.  It should have a good weight to it. To make roasted rutabaga, first peel the skin off and cut the root into cubes.  Toss with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Spread it all out on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees until golden brown and soft, about 35-40 minutes.  Garnish with a little chopped parsley.

And, finally, kohlrabi.  I don't know if I saved the best for last or not, but I love mashed stuff.  So today's recipe is Creamy Mashed Kohlrabi.  When selecting kohlrabi, make sure the skin is thin and tender with no wrinkles.  The size is about the size of a tennis ball.  Really large ones will tend to be more fibrous.

What you need:

2-3 kohlrabi, cubed
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 -1/3 cup milk or cream
1 tablespoon chives, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste.

What you need to do:

Fill a medium size pot about half way with water.  Add some salt and bring to boil.  Peel and cube the kohlrabi.  Add to the water and boil until kohlrabi is tender.  Drain.

Mince the chive and garlic and add to the butter and cooked kohlrabi in the bowl of a food processor.  Process and add milk to get the desired consistency.  Return the mixture to a pan and heat through as needed.

Serve as a side dish with roasted or fried chicken and a lovely salad.

There you have it.  Another use for a misunderstood and neglected root vegetable.

Now go out and make something good.


  1. Thank you for this information. Kandice

  2. Thanks! Rutabaga/Swede has been a favorite along with Kohlrabi for a lot of years. Turnips, here in the USA - not so much, flavour seems off to me, go figure. Generally add a potato with the Rutabaga/Swede to mellow the taste when mashed with lot's of butter when serving. As for Kohlrabi, that's a go to snack or add to a salad. I think, much better than Jicama in flavour. Yup, I do use the leaves for cooking. A Q. Any idea why people love and pay $$ for broccoli flowerettes when the best part is the stem they branch off off. No clue, my side