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Bitter foods aren’t bad. Just misunderstood

Recipe Swap: Rutabaga Apple Casserole, Turnip Carrot Puff, Turnips with Orange, and Hearty Rutabaga and Sausage Soup

fresh turnip and white radish

I used to hate turnip and rutabaga. They tasted bitter. But I like them now. What changed? Part of it is how I cook them. Older taste buds make a difference too.

Canadian cookbook author Jennifer McLagan has just released a new cookbook called Bitter — A Taste of The World’s Most Dangerous Flavour, With Recipes (HarperCollins Canada, 2014) that explores the physiological science as well as the food history behind why we dislike anything that tastes this way.

She makes a case for the taste of bitter, calling it a misunderstood and unappreciated flavour, lost in a simplistically sweet and salty food culture, while 120 idiosyncratic recipes (turnip ice cream, anyone?) push us to try new ways of preparing bitter foods.

Note: many recipes include ingredients not readily available, but Bitter is still interesting reading.

Back to turnips and rutabaga for a moment. Turnips actually aren’t so bad, especially when harvested young. But rutabaga, an anglicized form of the Swedish name rot bagge meaning baggy root, can be just nasty, especially if the living daylights are boiled out of it.

The key to learning to enjoy these root crops, and other decidedly bitter foods, says McLagan, is learning to prepare them in ways that make them tastier. Great food and cooking is all about balance, she says. Bitter flavours add depth to our food.

Just don’t expect your kids to like it. Children dislike anything bitter because young taste buds react as if it were poison. It’s a natural reaction. Many poisons are bitter.

I can recall that revolting little pile on my plate looking pretty deadly. But I’ll eat rutabaga or turnip any day now and genuinely enjoy both. Partly it’s having good recipes to prepare them. But as one reviewer of Bitter puts it, bitter is “an acquired taste appreciated by adults.”

Here are a few recipes from the Peak of the Market website for creatively cooking the humble turnip and rutabaga.

Rutabaga Apple Casserole

  • 3 c. pared rutabaga, sliced
  • 2 medium apples, sliced
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp. butter

Cook rutabaga slices in boiling water until tender crisp; drain. Layer rutabaga, apple, sugar and butter. Repeat layers. Bake covered in a preheated 350 F oven for 30 minutes.

Serves: 4

Turnip Carrot Puff

  • 2 c. turnip, chopped
  • 2-1/2 c. carrots, chopped
  • 1/4 c. onion, chopped
  • 1-1/2 c. chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Brown sugar
  • Nuts, chopped

In a large saucepan, combine turnip, carrots, onion, chicken stock, butter and brown sugar. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender.

Drain off and save stock. Return 1/4 cup to vegetables and save remainder for future soup stock. Mash vegetables. Add nutmeg, eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Whip well. Place mixture in lightly greased baking dish. Sprinkle brown sugar and nuts on top. Bake in preheated 350 F oven for 45 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Serves: 8

Turnips with Orange

  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 lb. small turnips, quartered
  • 1-1/4 c. orange juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat butter and oil in a saucepan, cook shallot gently, stirring occasionally, until soft but not coloured. Add turnips and heat. Shake pan frequently until turnips start to absorb butter and oil. Pour orange juice onto turnips, simmer gently for about 30 minutes, until turnips are tender and orange juice is reduced to a buttery sauce. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Serves: 4

Hearty Rutabaga and Sausage Soup

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 8 oz. smoked turkey sausage, diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 parsnips, sliced
  • 1 rutabaga, diced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 4 c. beef broth
  • 1/4 c. half-and-half cream
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat; add sausage and sauté until brown on all sides, about seven minutes. Transfer to plate using slotted spoon. Add onion to saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add parsnips, rutabaga, carrot and cook five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes. Purée soup in batches in processor. Return to saucepan. Mix in half-and-half cream and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Add sausage. Heat through.

Serves: 4

If you have a recipe or a column suggestion please write to:
Manitoba Co-operator
Recipe Swap, Box 1794 Carman,
Manitoba R0G 0J0
or email Lorraine Stevenson.

About the author


Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.



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