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Roots : Exotic, Spicy, Racy . . . Turnips?

February 25, 1993|FAYE LEVY | Levy is the author of the forthcoming "Faye Levy's International Vegetable Cookbook" (Warner Books).

When a French person describes a machine that turns out to be what we would call a lemon, he says, " C'etait un navet " ("It was a turnip"). I'm not sure how this expression came to be; the French are actually very fond of the turnip. It's a standard addition to the popular Sunday dinner, pot au feu , and it's usually seen in poached beef with winter vegetables and in spring lamb stews.

(Of the related rutabaga, the French are not so fond. A French chef I studied with once told me, "This vegetable is used as fodder for cattle, and as food for humans only in wartime.")

We don't think of North Africa as a treasure trove of cold-weather recipes, but cooks in that region have developed delicious ways to prepare turnips. Who can resist a colorful Moroccan stew of turnips, potatoes, carrots and onions flavored with garlic, cumin, olive oil and plenty of Italian parsley?

Serve these hearty vegetables as accompaniments for meat or poultry, or as the basis for a winter vegetarian meal, with a steaming bowl of rice or couscous , or simply a loaf of good, crusty bread.

Spicy seasonings show turnips in a completely new light. Serve this delicious dish as an accompaniment for beef, lamb or chicken or as a light main course.

ALGERIAN TURNIPS WITH PEAS, GARLIC AND CILANTRO 2 pounds turnips, peeled and cut into 3/4- to 1-inch dice 4 large cloves garlic, chopped 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon paprika 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper Salt Freshly ground pepper 1 1/2 cups water 1/2 cup long-grain white rice 1/2 cup chopped cilantro 2 cups frozen green peas

Combine turnips, garlic, olive oil, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste and water in large saucepan. Stir and bring to boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in rice and 1/4 cup cilantro. Cover and cook another 10 minutes. Add peas without stirring. Cover and cook until rice is tender, about 10 minutes more. Gently stir in 3 tablespoons cilantro. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve sprinkled with remaining 1 tablespoon cilantro. Makes 2 to 3 main-course or 4 to 5 side-dish servings.

Each main-course serving contains about: 539 calories; 619 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 89 grams carbohydrates; 16 grams protein; 8.09 grams fiber.

Garlic, herbs and spices give this colorful stew of turnips, potatoes and carrots a zesty flavor. It's great with roast chicken or lamb, or it can be a light vegetarian main course.

MOROCCAN WINTER VEGETABLE STEW 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced 2 large cloves garlic, chopped 1 pound turnips, peeled and cut into 3/4- to 1-inch dice 1 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4- to 1-inch dice 2 medium or large carrots, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick 1 cup water 1 teaspoon paprika 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin Dash cayenne pepper Salt Freshly ground pepper 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

Heat olive oil in large, heavy saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and saute over medium heat about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute 15 seconds. Add turnips, potatoes, carrots, water, paprika, cumin, cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil, stirring. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook, occasionally stirring gently, until all vegetables are tender, about 35 minutes.

Uncover and cook 2 to 3 minutes to evaporate excess liquid, stirring as little as possible. Lightly mix in 3 tablespoons parsley. Serve sprinkled with remaining 1 tablespoon parsley. Makes 2 main-course or 4 to 5 side-dish servings.

Each main-course serving contains about: 415 calories; 322 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 67 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 4.11 grams fiber.

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