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Roots and Shoots are Good Late-Winter Eating

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Roots and Shoots are Good Late-Winter Eating
Photo by Jennifer Hitchcock

Growing up in the suburbs of New Orleans, I had absolutely no appreciation for turnip greens. Additionally, I outgrew a taste for sweet pickles by the age of eight, so it definitely would not have occurred to me that one could ferment turnip roots to get them to taste like bread and butter pickles. Therefore, I am as surprised as anyone, on those drearily short winter days, when I find myself craving braised turnip greens.  I refer to them as “roots and shoots,” because I like to finish the greens with pickled turnip roots and some of their brine.

This side dish had its genesis a few winters back, when the available locally-grown crops dwindled to collards, mustard, and turnips greens, and roots and tubers that cellar well. Since we like to cook sweet potatoes and collard greens throughout the year, and I can’t figure out how to make mustard greens tasty, that left me with turnips and their greens.

I had just recently discovered fermenting and was making bread and butter pickled turnips for our pork terrine plate, in addition to sour cucumbers for deep frying and dabbling with kimchi. I wanted to make a lighter dish of greens to contrast with our classic take on collards (with hambones, fatback and chicken stock), so I thought I might braise some turnip greens in water and temper the bitterness with a little sugar and vinegar. Then it hit me – the brine from the turnips would serve that purpose and would be a better use than pouring it down the drain. The taste was wonderful, and I decided to add some of the pickled roots for a textural contrast. A star was born. No one seemed to notice that the roots and shoots were vegan, and they’ve become a part of our wintry repertoire ever since, so much so, that when asked to contribute a vegetable course to a Lowcountry/African foodways dinner during a recent Atlantic World Research Network conference, I prepared roots and shoots.

The trick here is to pickle enough turnip roots so that you have extra to accompany cheese platters or charcuterie. As long as you use clean utensils, they will keep for weeks or months in the refrigerator. Treat these like two separate recipes.

Pickled Turnips

Roots + Shoots