South Indian-Style Turnips with Garlic and Black PepperBy Heidi Allison In this brilliant dish, the bitter taste of the turnip is balanced with the garlicky, sweet taste of the caramelized shallots and garlic
Until I tried this dish, turnips were a vegetable relegated to the sidelines of fall, holiday meals – once a year, and at someone else’s house. But this dish grabbed my attention, and forced me, along with everyone else eating at this cutting-edge, South Indian Vegetarian restaurant, to look at turnips in a whole, new light – a “go-to” side that vegetarians and carnivores will crave.
In this brilliant dish, the bitter taste of the turnip is balanced with the garlicky, sweet taste of the caramelized shallots and garlic; with the strong peppery note, from the hefty dose of freshly-ground black pepper, is the perfect counterpoint flavor to temper this pungent root. I had never encountered this flavor profile before, but it sent this humble, veggie stew into “umami overdrive.”
After talking with the chef, and testing this recipe many times, I uncovered several culinary techniques that make (or break) this dish: choose small to medium-small turnips, rather than large, which can be tough and stringy. Use low heat when sweating the shallots and garlic – even slightly overcooking these ingredients will impart an acrid, bitter taste to the finished dish. Using thinly sliced, rather than chopped shallots and garlic, takes advantage of the garlic and shallots’ greater surface areas, and causes these pungent ingredients to reduce down to a sweeter taste in less time. An added bonus of this culinary technique: the shallots and garlic almost melt into this dish’s reduction sauce – they add concentrated flavor and a smooth, creamy texture. While I prefer using elephant garlic, which has a slightly sweeter taste compared to regular garlic, either will do. It’s also crucial to use a concentrated vegetable stock paste – when mixed with hot water, this mixture becomes your flavor-packed braising liquid that not only seasons the turnips, but changes their pasty, white, bland color to an exquisite, deep, rich brown color that seduces your eye and palate!
South Indian-Style Turnips with Garlic and Black Pepper
2 large Shallots
1 clove Elephant Garlic
(or substitute with 2 Tablespoons Regular Garlic, minced)
1 clove Regular Garlic
3 Tablespoons Pure Olive Oil (can substitute with Canola or Sunflower Oil)
5 medium or small Turnips
, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes (about 1 .5 pound)
¼ teaspoon Brown Sugar
¼ teaspoon Flaked Sea Salt
30 turns of Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1½ Tablepsoon Vegetable Stock Paste (I prefer Better Than Bouillon Organic Vegetable Base)
1½ cups Hot Water
1 Tablepsoon Tomato Sauce
1 teaspoon Unsalted Butter
7 turns of Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Cilantro Leaves
, thinly sliced
Using a mandoline or Japanese Benriner, thinly slice the shallots into rings about 1/16 inch thick— very thin— and set aside. Repeat with the large clove of elephant garlic and 1 clove of regular garlic. If using regular garlic, mince or thinly slice (being careful with your fingertips!), and set aside.
Place oil into a 12-inch, heavy-bottomed, non-stick skillet and heat on medium-low until warm. Add shallots, sprinkle with sea salt and sauté until soft and golden yellow—about 2-4 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until soft and golden color – about 1 minute more.
Add turnips, brown sugar and 30 turns of freshly ground black pepper, and stir to mix. Add vegetable base, tomato sauce and hot water, stir until combined and vegetable base dissolves into water – you will see a rich brown stock.
In a separate, small pan, add 1 Tbsp. of oil and heat on medium until oil is hot. Add mustard seeds and sauté until they start to pop; then pour oil and toasted seeds into turnips.
Increase heat to medium until liquid starts to simmer. Cover and sauté for 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid is evaporated and the turnip mixture has taken on a rich, deep brown color.
If too much liquid still exists, remove cover and sauté, shaking pan in a back and forth motion until liquid reduces— turnip mixture should resemble a thick stew.
Add butter and 7 turns of freshly ground black pepper, and shake pan in a back and forth motion until butter dissolves and incorporates into the stew.
Remove from heat and place on a serving plate. Sprinkle cilantro over the top and serve immediately.