10 March 2008
Molasses Braised Turnips with Pepper
When I was staying with my mom just before moving to D.C. I warned her: I'm in a phase where I'm cooking primarily Iraqi food now. My mother raised the expected skeptical eyebrow. "But don't worry mom," I said, "Iraqis love turnips." You see, my mother loves turnips, she likes to say she lost fifty pounds eating turnips, which she buys from a quirky bearded farmer at the market each week. They're a rather overlooked vegetable, a healthy alternative to potatoes with a slightly bitter edge. And funnily enough, Iraqis, whose cuisine tends to be meat and rice heavy, also love turnips.
In Iraq, turnips are cooked whole in a sticky molasses mixture and served as a popular street food. When I first heard about this in Nawal Nasrallah's Delights from the Garden of Eden (the go-to reference for anyone interested in Iraqi cuisine) I'll admit I was skeptical: both turnips and molasses can have a bitter edge, and I wasn't sure they could balance each other. But having made this dish three times now, I can tell you they sure do! I like to thickly slice the turnips and slow cook them in a molasses and lemon mixture until they turn translucent and almost caramelized. In Iraq, this would be made with date molasses, but good old plain molasses works perfectly, and my aunt gave me some sorghum molasses recently that I've also used with great results. We top the turnips with a sprinkling of black pepper for spice, or perhaps a few grains of paradise (a neat alternative to pepper). Since I recieved both the cookbook, sorghum molasses, and grains of paradise as Christmas gifts, think of this as a virtual thank you note. Yes mom, I know it's only three months too late.
Molasses Braised Turnips with Black Pepper
At the edge of spring, when I'm still reaching in the root vegetable bin, this is the recipe I reach for. The name in Arabic (maye' al-shalgham) means melting, a fitting name for this slighly sweet side dish.
2 lbs turnips
1/3 cup mild molasses
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh black pepper or grains of paradise, for serving
1. Peel the turnips and slice thickly (about 1/2 and inch thick).
2. Place turnips in a wide pot with the molassses, lemon, and salt. Add enough water so that the turnips are covered by 1 inch. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat very low and simmer for 30-35 minutes, stirring fairly frequently so that the turnips cook evenly. The turnips should be meltingly tender and the liquid should be reduced to a glaze. Serve immediately with fresh cracked pepper.