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Stumped by turnips? Put them in soup

Recipe: Easiest ever, just chop and simmer

Winter vegetable soup is topped with a dollop of
sour cream and a sprinkling of chopped chives.
(Photos: Kathy Morrison)

When life gives you turnips, you learn to cook them.

I did not grow up eating turnips. I had never planted them. Yet here I was with an impressive haul of turnips, thanks to my change of address at my community garden.

The previous gardener had moved, and I switched to her plot, inheriting her raised beds, irrigation system — and turnips. The little green sprouts I couldn’t quite identify in November had grown into beautiful root vegetables. I had to harvest them before it was too late, and then had to find some way to use them.

This delicious and unbelievably easy recipe, a spin on classic potato-leek soup by the New York Times' Martha Rose Shulman, took care of some of the turnips, cooking them with potatoes, leeks and carrots. It's a lovely chowder-like soup, perfect for the last days of winter. No oil, butter or sautéing involved.

Turnips, potato, garlic, carrots, leeks
The three turnips here weigh 10 ounces total, per the recipe.

The bouquet garni is basically a bundle of herbs that traditionally are tied together to flavor a sauce or soup. Kitchen twine usually works, but the bay leaf might be a problem there. (You can always add the bay leaf separately and fish it out before blending the soup.) Little net bags designed for pickling also work for bouquet garni. I have a funny silicone container for herbs that I acquired somewhere along the way -- see the photo. The herbs are just stuffed inside and it's then dropped into the soup; I retrieve it after simmering.

Do garnish the finished soup with a bit of sour cream or crème fraîche, or a vegan alternative, plus chives or scallions. The sour cream adds a nice little bite to a soup that's as comforting as a warm sweater.

Winter Vegetable Soup With Turnips, Carrots, Potatoes and Leeks

Serves 6


3 large leeks, white parts only, cleaned and sliced 1/2-inch thick

2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

3 large carrots, peeled and diced

1 celery stalk, diced

2 or 3 turnips,  about 10 ounces total, peeled and diced

2 or 3 russet potatoes, about 1 pound total, peeled and diced

Thyme, parsley and bay leaf with green herb container
This silicone container, with holes for liquid to pass through,
works for bouquet garni or pickling spices.
A bouquet garni (herb bundle) made with a few sprigs each thyme and parsley, plus a bay leaf

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For garnish:

Sour cream or crème fraîche

Chopped fresh chives, scallions or parsley


Put 1-1/2 quarts (6 cups) of water in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the leeks, garlic, carrots, celery, turnips, potatoes and 2 to 3 teaspoons salt, plus pepper to taste.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes, until vegetables are very soft.

Remove the bouquet garni. Blend the soup to desired smoothness using an immersion blender (the easiest option) or puree it using a standing blender or a food mill. (You might have to let it cool a bit before using either of the latter options.) Return the soup to the pot if using the blender or food mill.

Heat through and adjust the seasonings to taste. Serve in warm bowls, garnished as desired from the suggestions above.


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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