I’m not fooling: my fall turnip crop is gorgeous. I mean, knock-on-the-neighbor’s-door-and-brag-on-myself gorgeous.
I went out to the garden the day before yesterday to thin my root crops out a bit. I wanted to make sure there would be enough room for the remaining roots to get some size on them. It wasn’t until I got the turnips and beets into the kitchen to wash them up a bit that I noticed the luscious armload of turnip greens, each one as long as my forearm, with nearly no pest damage. Friend, one pound of self-admiration + half a pound of cool autumn weather = one Sho’nuff Sistuh, swamped in a wave of nostalgia that nothing would satisfy but a big old mess of grandma’s turnip greens with salt-pork.
Here’s how you do it.
1 pound of salt-pork or thick-sliced bacon
4 pounds (approximately) of turnip greens
1 coarsely chopped onion
2 – 3 turnips, diced (optional: you can use potatoes instead if you like)
2 cups of water
1 tablespoon sugar (approx)
2 tsp coarse black pepper (approx)
1 tsp red pepper flakes (approx)
1. Prepare your turnip leaves
Sort through your turnip leaves, discarding any discolored leaves or leaves badly damaged by pests. Wash each leaf individually, watching out particularly for itty bitty spider webs and bits of soil. Grit in your greens might be fun to say, but it’s no fun in your mouth. Ask me how I know.
Break off and discard any long tough stems that don’t have leaf tissue attached. Chop the leaves coarsely, set aside in a colander and allow any excess wash water to drain.
2. While your turnip leaves drain:
Remove the rind from the salt-pork, if it has one. Soak the salt pork in water for about five minutes before rinsing it thoroughly in cold running water. I sent my hubby to the grocery store to get a piece of salt-pork for this recipe. Good Polish boy that he is, he can stuff the heck out of some cabbage leaves, but he’s a little scared of Soul Food. He sheepishly brought back a pound of bacon, Bless his soul, so I had to make do. FYI: you can make this with bacon just fine. Grandma Juanita sometimes did, though the finished dish is not as rich. If you are concerned about calories or cholesterol, you could even use turkey bacon, though that thought makes a crease appear between my eyebrows.
Whichever: dice your bacon or salt-pork into cubes.
3. Wilt your greens, make your pot-likker
Use a big pot or a dutch-oven to fry the meat until it is crisp and brown.
Begin to wilt your turnip greens in the pot by tossing in one or two good handfuls. Rely on the hot oil in the pot to wilt your greens. Do NOT cover the pot with a lid in order to “hurry” it along. As the leaves shrink, add more leaves by the fistful until the entire 4 pounds is in the pot.
Add two cups of water, the sugar, the ground pepper, and the red pepper flakes.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cover the pot. Simmer covered for a minimum of 45 minutes, stirring every once in a while.
4. Adjust seasoning
Now you will need to taste your pot likker (the liquid) to adjust the seasoning. Notice that this recipe doesn’t call for salt. The salt in this recipe comes from the salt-pork. If you forget to wash your salt pork, your pot likker will be too salty. You can correct for this by adding a little water, to taste. If you use bacon, your pot likker may not be salty enough. You can correct for this by adding a pinch of salt. If your turnip leaves are particularly mature and tough (or they grew in hot weather), your pot-likker may be quite bitter. You can adjust for this by adding just a touch more sugar to help modify the bitterness. Adjust the black and red pepper to suit your personal palette. You can make this dish as hot as you can stand it.
5. Simmer On!
Technically, you only need to simmer greens long enough for the turnips or potatoes to cook… but grandma let her’s simmer for at least an hour and a half. The longer you simmer them, the more tender leaves become, and the better the flavors meld. So let ‘em simmer longer, I say!
6. Serving Turnip Greens
Ladle into a shallow bowl. Drizzle with cider or malt vinegar. Make them extra pretty by garnishing them with pickled pearl onions, or with chopped garden tomatoes. In this photo, I used turnip kimchi. You can also add your favorite hot sauce as a condiment.
Turnip greens make a great side dish, but they are also a meal in their own right. When served as the main meal, serve with any combination of side dishes like corn bread, stewed tomatoes, red beans and rice, creamed succotash, fried okra or… The options are endless. Enjoy!!