Adventuresome farmers are my favorites. Those who dare to grow something for market that no one heard of before or sees everyday, whether farmers’ markets, grocery stores, or authentic farm-to-table restaurants. They – like blogs and occasionally newspapers – introduce us to produce, prepared food or techniques that take us back to folkways or transport us to faraway places. That’s how I learned you could grow ginger in New Jersey and that there are hundreds of varieties of eggplant, peppers, and even cucumbers available for the home gardener. Not to mention, there’s a new world of roasting and pickling out there.
I went to one of our several local farmers’ markets last weekend, expecting to buy freshly harvested asparagus, radishes, chard and Hakurei turnips. They were all there, of course, but alongside the picture-perfect globes of white turnip were bundles of long, skinny, hairy, magenta and white roots labeled Hinona Kabu turnips. Huh? This was going to be exciting. They were wonderful raw, crisper and denser than their Hakerei cousins. They were also wonderful lightly pickled in the traditional Japanese way, salted to sweat out excess moisture and marinated for a few hours in rice vinegar and a little sugar. This pickle is known as Sakura Zuke or Cherry Blossom Pickle. There is a condiment that pickles actual cherry blossoms, but I guess this is so called because of its signature pink color.
I did not peel the turnips since the skin is not tough, but I did remove the hairy roots. They actually rub off quite easily with a rough towel. I decided to cut the turnips into diagonal wedges rather than thin slices or sticks (which would also be nice) because this gave me the option of serving them on toothpicks with raw turnips and sesame rice crackers or dicing them to toss into a salad with raw radishes and fennel. Either way, they were a big hit.
I was so excited by this discovery that I ordered seeds to plant in early summer and again in early fall so that I can enjoy these special turnips any time.
Sakura Zuke, Pickled Hinona Kabu Turnips adapted from Kitazawa Seed Co
I small bunch (12 pieces) Japanese long turnips (Hinona Kabu)
2 tsp sea salt or Kosher salt (not iodized)
½ c rice vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
Remove the greens from the turnips and set aside for another use. Remove the hairy roots by plucking them or rubbing them off with a coarse towel. Do not peel.
Cut the turnips into thick or thin slices or sticks and place them in a medium colander over a shallow bowl. Sprinkle with salt, place a weighted plate on top and let them sweat for 30 minutes. Brush off the excess salt and liquid and place the turnip in a bowl with a lid.
Combine the rice vinegar and sugar. (Scale up the mixture so that the liquid just covers the turnip.) Heat slightly to dissolve the sugar, if necessary. Pour over the sliced turnips. When cool, cover and marinate for 8 hours or overnight. Store in the refrigerator.