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I’ve been tricked by turnips. They’re seductive things, with flushed purple tops and creamy white bottoms and they feel substantial in the hand. When I spotted a crate at the farmer’s market my thoughts turned immediately to fried turnip cakes, those delectable dim sum eats flecked with dried shrimp and Chinese sausage.

So I bought a few, not realizing that turnip cakes are in fact made from shredded daikon radish.

Later that week my fresh turnips went into beef stew, added towards the end of cooking, and they transformed perfectly delicious food into pungent sludge. (Charlie, a New Englander, insists that he liked them that way.) But who can write off the mighty turnip after just one try? Act like that a few times during this stretch of winter and suddenly there’s not much to eat. Soon I was back at the farmer’s market, remembering that turnip cakes do taste sort of turnipy after all. Maybe the trick was in the frying, in that tasty browned crust.

At home I peeled and sliced the new roots and fried them in hot oil. I wondered if their bitterness could be balanced with a sweet, spicy glaze of hoisin sauce or honey and hot pepper. But we’d run out of hoisin at home and the world is running out of honey, so further improvisation was in order. The turnips cooked quickly, and after removing them from the pan I discovered that frying had attenuated their bitterness and lent a pleasing chewy texture. I put together a reduction of brown sugar, chili paste, and rice vinegar and roasted the turnip slices briefly in the reduced liquid. The end result was nice to look at and tasted tantalizingly of sweet, sour, hot, and bitter. It’s a good jumping-off point for further experimentation.

Please leave a comment if you have a favorite way to prepare turnips.

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