Baby Turnips and Greens in a Moghul-Style Sauce

The finished dish here may photograph about a two, but it tastes a ten.

This is an entry for The Spice is Right #1, the theme of which is “Ancient Spices.” Finally, a blog event that makes sense for me to participate in – no wine or eggs or such required!

To get ideas together for this challenge, I thought I might take a flip through Dalby’s Dangerous Tastes, which sits on my food bookshelves in the living room (the cookbooks have their own bookcase in the kitchen). However, that never happened. It was a chance encounter with some baby turnips in the produce section at Whole Foods on a Sunday afternoon that set this entry in motion.

I had come to the store without much of a list, which can be great fun when the seasons are changing as they are right now. I found green garlic available, and picking that up, I thought I’d get some radishes for a highly springtime-y radish/fennel/asaparagus/green garlic/dill salad. While picking out my radishes, I looked down and saw the smallest, sweetest, greenest-leaved new turnips.

Mr. Man-of-Few-Words Produce Guy was standing next to me, stacking bags of the ubiquitous whittled carrots.

“These turnips look wonderful.”

“Yep. Picked on Thursday.”

“T&D Willey?”

“Yep. Madera.” (About 20 miles away from where we were standing.)

I selected three small bunches. “Well, they’re getting cooked tonight.”

He grunted. I took this as a sign of approval.

As noted in the title, this is a Moghul-style dish. Dishes named for the Moghul period (from the early 16th century to late 19th century – perhaps not truly ancient in the term of India’s civilization, but well before my time) are those that are supposed to have been concocted for and particular favorites of the Moghul rulers. The dishes are generally richly sauced with the inclusion of yogurt in the sauce’s preparation, light on vegetables (the Moghuls were big on meat) and warmly spiced. Though the spices used are undoubtedly ancient, it’s that recipe and cooking method date of provenance I’m using to tie this back to the “Ancient” part of the challenge, rather than focusing on a single ancient spice. The original inspiration for this recipe was a lamb-and-turnip dish I came across in an Indian cookbook and resolved to put to my own herbivorous purposes. It had no greens in it. If you’re buying turnips with tops, you have to use them – they’re delicious.

The first Moghul-style dish I ever attempted (in 1993) was Dum Aloo, which is potatoes (aloo) cooked in a tightly closed vessel over low heat (the method is known as dum) in a yogurt sauce. It’s quite good, but I think I like this even better.

2 onions, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves
1 1/2 in. piece of ginger
1/2 c. oil (I am totally serious – you need it for the onion/garlic/ginger paste to work right)
1 bay leaf (if you have strong-smelling ones, if not, use 2)
pinch of asafetida
1/2 t. cayenne powder
2 T. ground coriander
2 T. ground cumin
1/4 t. turmeric
1/2 t. garam masala
1 T. paprika
2 T. tomato paste
2 T. plain yogurt
1 1/2 t. salt (or to taste)
1 t. ground black pepper
1 1/2 T. brown sugar
15 baby turnips, topped and halved lengthwise
the greens from the turnips, well washed and cut into 1 in. or so pieces
1 5 oz. bag fresh spinach
1 c. minced cilantro
2 t. butter

Put the onions, garlic, and ginger in a food processor and chop them to form a paste. Heat the oil in a large, deep pan and add the the mixture from the food processor and the bay leaves. Fry over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium and fry for another 15 minutes or so, until the paste is beginning to lose most of its moisture and turn brown.

Add the asafetida, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, turmeric, garam masala and paprika and fry briefly until the spices are slightly darkened and aromatic. This will take a couple minutes.

Add the tomato paste and yogurt and fry, stirring well, to incorporate them. Add the salt, pepper, and sugar and stir to incorporate. Following those additions, slowly pour in two cups of water, stirring between additions, so that the sauce’s heat does not drop too much.

Now add the turnips, turnip greens and spinach to the pot, and mix to combine. Tightly cover the pot and reduce the heat slightly. Allow to cook at just above a simmer for about 40 minutes, until the turnips are tender, the greens are thoroughly wilted, and the oil has begun to separate from the sauce.

Stir in the cilantro and check seasoning; place the butter in the pot and allow to melt, then stir until incorporated.

Makes four servings. This is a very rich dish; serve it with flatbread or rice pilaf. Any dishes matched with this one should be fairly light.

8 thoughts on “Baby Turnips and Greens in a Moghul-Style Sauce

  1. I see nothing wrong with your photos. The rich ruddy-brown flecked with bright green–absolutely appetizing. You’ve paired it with a photo in cool whites and greens.
    yum 🙂

  2. Au contraire, your photo of the turnip dish is also a 10. As soon as I opened your page, I thought “I want that. It looks delicious!” And from the recipe, it sounds delicious as well.

  3. Thanks, Jasmine and Elizabeth! I was thinking of how stew tends to just lie there and allow itself to be photographed, but doesn’t pile or arch or curl in any interesting way. Jasmine, it does have color, that’s for sure.
    Elizabeth, glad to hear it sounds good. It does taste good – a half-cup of oil will help most things.

  4. Perfect! Having bought some turnips in the local Indian supermarket on a whim, I have spent hours looking for a decent recipe – and just found one! Thanks a bundle.

  5. Yes, Nabeela, I think it was _The Food of India_. I thought I’d mentioned that in the post, but it looks like I didn’t. Very sharp of you to recognize it!

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