Rediscovering Turnip Greens, the South's Humblest Vegetable

Move over, collards—there's a new leafy green in town.

When you think of Southern food, you probably picture paper plates heaped with barbecue staples—crispy fried chicken, gooey mac and cheese, and fall-off-the-bone ribs, glistening with a rich glaze of BBQ sauce. And while barbecue is undeniably a trademark of Southern cooking, you'll scant find a Southern cookout that doesn't feature a big pot of greens. Southerners know that the secret to good cooking is all about balance; we'll polish off that pulled pork sandwich, and we'll match it with a generous scoop of stewed collards.

If barbecue is the main event, greens are the understated supporting act to any Southern meal—they play a role just as crucial as a glass of sweet tea on a hot August afternoon. We all know about Southern collards, but the time has come to talk about the South's best-kept secret: Turnip greens.

Skillet Chicken with Beans and Greens

Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Christina Lane; Food Styling: Tina Bell Stamos

Turnip Greens Flavor

The turnip is one of our favorite fall root vegetables for its mild, earthy flavor. Like their root vegetable cousins, the beet and the potato, turnips taste great when they're oven-roasted, gaining a nice, caramelized crust and a fluffy, tender interior. They small bulbs are slightly sweet and peppery, combining the sweet vegetal flavor of a carrot with the comforting, starchy texture of a baby potato. But the bulbs are only the beginning. Turnip greens, AKA the plant's leafy stems, also hold a world of culinary possibilities.

Turnip greens likely graced your childhood table in the form of a deeply stewed, pulpy glob of boiled greens, seasoned with salt and pepper and perhaps studded with ham hocks. While a simple sauté is a classic treatment of the greens—just the look of it triggers all the nostalgia—it's time to pay turnip greens the respect that they're due. To restrict our preparation of turnip greens to "muddled to a near paste" would be to do the humble vegetable a serious disservice. And we've got the recipes to prove it.

Roasted Baby Turnips with Turnip Green Pesto
Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke, Food Styling: Tina Bell Stamos

Go-To Turnip Green Recipes

Today, you'll find turnip greens reimagined in a plethora of Southern-favorite recipes. Hosting a gameday cookout? Retire the tired spinach-and-artichoke spread and introduce your guests to our office-favorite Warm Turnip Green Dip. Want to whip up a quick, healthy, and balanced weeknight dinner? Skillet Chicken Breast with Beans and Greens will be your new go-to.

While you may best recognize turnip greens when they're boiled to a pulp, their mild flavor and thick, leafy texture actually makes them a great choice for fresh summer and fall salads. Trade out the trendy kale and go back to basics with our Turnip Green Salad; the main-worthy greens dish is adorned with purple cauliflower, watermelon radishes, and heirloom grape tomatoes for peak color.

Shine a spotlight on the humble turnip in a side dish that's all about the vegetable: Roasted Baby Turnips with Turnip Green Pesto. If you ever needed a reason not to toss those stems, meet Turnip Green Pesto. A simple pesto is so easy to make, and this version substitutes basil for Southern-favorite turnip greens. After a quick boil, just toss the greens into the food processor with garlic and pecans to form a bright, herbaceous sauce. This dish takes all the different parts of the turnip—from the stems to the bulbs—and marries the components together.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to these humble greens. Whether you're using them in a hearty soup, a farm-fresh side, or a simple sauté, they're sure to bring a bit of Southern soul to your fall table.

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Jessica B. Harris' Mixed Greens

Jessica’s Mixed Greens
Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis

Recipe: Jessica B. Harris' Mixed Greens

"Virtually all over the globe, greens are eaten in some form," writes culinary historian Jessica B. Harris. "I guess it's their ease of cooking, the multiple ways in which they can be prepared, and that they can even be foraged during times of necessity." Stewing them with bacon and topping them with a bit of homemade spicy vinegar are her Southern approach to greens, and this recipe will become a staple side in your home.

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Warm Turnip Green Dip

Warm Turnip Green Dip

Recipe: Warm Turnip Green Dip

This comforting dip recipe is our food editor's go-to appetizer for a holiday gathering. "Think of it as your favorite warm spinach dip with a Southern accent and way more personality," she says.

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Bryant Terry's Turnip Green Soup

Bryant Terry's Turnip Green Soup
Ed Anderson

Recipe: Bryant Terry's Turnip Green Soup

Memphis-raised chef Bryant Terry shared this recipe from his cookbook Vegan Soul Kitchen with us. "This soup is very nurtur­ing and, dare I say, healing," he says. "During winter months, if I'm feeling a cold creeping on, I make this soup and take it easy, and typically bounce back." Terry calls for baby turnips because of their milder flavor, but if you can't find them, he says four larger ones that have been peeled will work.

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Grits and Greens with Brown Butter Hot Sauce

Grits and Greens with Brown Butter Hot Sauce
Iain Bagwell

Recipe: Grits and Greens with Brown Butter Hot Sauce

North Carolina chef, cookbook author, and TV personality Vivian Howard shared this old-school recipe as part of her ideal Christmas brunch spread. "You can substitute your favorite hearty winter greens, but don't skip the hot and tangy sauce—it makes the dish," she says.

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Creamy Turnip Soup

Creamy Turnip Soup
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Recipe: Creamy Turnip Soup

This creamy winter soup starts with a blend of slow-cooked turnips, potatoes, onion, and thyme. A bit of cream adds richness, and a topping of sautéed turnip greens and bacon add just the right amount of salty bite, but you can make this comforting soup vegetarian by omitting the bacon and swapping chicken stock for vegetable.

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