Rutabaga is a very popular vegetable in Ireland, but the name is never used by the Irish to describe this favorite side for a chicken roast, ham or bacon dinner.
In Ireland, this favorite Thanksgiving vegetable is called a turnip.
Table of Contents
- Why Do The Irish Call A Rutabaga A Turnip?
- Rutabagas for Thanksgiving
- Purchasing Rutabaga in America
- How To Peel and Prepare A Rutabaga, Swede or Irish Turnip for Cooking
- Ingredients for Irish Style Mashed Rutabaga
- Directions for Cooking A Turnip Irish Style
- What to Serve with Mashed Rutabaga
- Video for Mashed Yellow Turnip
- Recipe Card for Mashed Rutabaga
Why Do The Irish Call A Rutabaga A Turnip?
The Irish call this root vegetable a turnip. Why exactly is not clear.
The English call it a swede, and in Scotland it is often called a neep.
The term rutabaga comes from the Swedish word "rotabagge".
It is a bulbous root vegetable with a purple hued outer skin covering a dense inner yellow core.
In France the humble rutabaga is not considered fit for human consumption and is reserved for animal feed. However, it is used extensively in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and Russia as a side dish or as an ingredient for soups and stews.
American rutabagas, Irish yellow turnips and British swedes, and Swedish turnips all belong to the Brassica napobrassica family of plants. You'll often hear they're members of the brassica family.
Yellow turnip is the same vegetable as a rutabaga.
Now small little white turnips are technically called Brassica rapa. These smaller, white fleshed roots are very popular in southern American cooking, and provide us with that ever so southern staple, their famous turnip greens made with turnip leaves. Rutabaga is different to white turnip.
White turnips are less bitter than the yellow variety. White turnips can be eaten raw and are a nice addition to salads.
Another difference between rutabagas and small turnips lies in their leaves. Turnip leaves are a light green color and they tend to be thin and slightly hairy. In contrast, the rutabaga leaves are thick and smooth and are a bluish-green color.
American rutabaga and Irish turnips have a dense, hard yellow flesh, while small American turnips have white flesh.
Rutabagas for Thanksgiving
My thoughts turn to rutabagas with Thanksgiving approaching. I know it's not a traditional vegetable for Americans to serve, but a turnip tale links it to this holiday for me.
When I was close to seven months pregnant with triplets, my aunt visited for Thanksgiving. She was born in Ireland, but has lived in America for over fifty years. She suggested we have Irish mashed turnips with our turkey that year, since serving rutabaga at Thanksgiving had become a personal tradition for her over the years.
Despite resembling a moving mountain at this point in my pregnancy, I dutifully waddled to the grocery store, plonked my colossal self into a motorized cart, and sped through the vegetable aisles, never dreaming there might be a shortage of rutabagas. Lo and behold there wasn't a single rutabaga to be had.
"We always run out of rutabagas at Thanksgiving," the produce manager explained. "It's the one time of year they are in demand."
I returned home shocked and empty-handed.
But never fear!
Irish American Dad fancied a scoop of mashed turnip instead of an overly-sweet, sweet potato casserole that year. He rose to the challenge, searching high and low, from grocery store to fresh fruit market, along the turnip trail.
He did not fail us. He found one hiding beneath a head of cabbage in a Meijers store far, far away. And so that year we gave thanks, for one man's perseverance in his quest to deliver a Thanksgiving rutabaga.
And being an Irish man, he knew exactly what he was looking for, once we told him he was on a quest for a good, old Irish turnip.
Purchasing Rutabaga in America
Practically every time I buy a rutabaga at the grocery store, the check-out guy or gal holds it up with a quizzical expression.
"What's this called," comes the inevitable question.
I think very few Americans buy rutabagas, probably because they simply don't know how to cook them.
So be prepared to advise the checkout person that the vegetable they are weighing and scanning is a rutabaga.
However, things are beginning to change in the American rutabaga world. They're becoming a staple in the Keto loving community, with many Keto lovers using them as a replacement for potatoes.
There are many ways to cook turnips or rutabagas. They're delicious in soups and many people love to roast them. I make a delicious carrot and rutabaga soup which you might enjoy.
But no matter which recipe you choose, the first step to cooking with rutabaga, involves peeling it.
How To Peel and Prepare A Rutabaga, Swede or Irish Turnip for Cooking
Today I will solve that problem of how to prepare a rutabaga for cooking, with a short synopsis of my more in-depth tutorial on how to peel and cut a rutabaga.
The most difficult and dangerous part of this process is cutting up the rutabaga.
When picking one in the grocery store, I try to find one with a flat bottom end. It makes it much easier to balance to make that first cut through the hard inner core.
Place the root on a cutting board, balanced on its flattest end. Cut through the middle separating it into two equal halves.
Perform this step with care.
Some people like to microwave the rutabaga before peeling it to make the whole process easier.
I personally don't microwave my rutabaga before peeling, but I have years of rutabaga cutting experience under my belt. What a claim to fame!
If you would like to soften your rutabaga in the microwave to make it easier to peel, then follow these steps.
- Prick the rutabaga skin in several places with a skewer.
- Wrap it in damp paper towels and place it in a microwavable dish.
- Cook it on the high microwave setting for 5 minutes.
- Then turn it upside down and repeat for another 5 minutes.
- Remove it from the microwave and allow it to cool before slicing it in half as directed above.
- You are now ready to move on with the next steps outlined below.
Turn each half onto its flat side, then cut it into ½ inch thick semi-circles.
Throw away the first and last piece which are covered in thicker skin.
Use a paring knife to remove the outer skin.
This method is much easier than trying to peel a rutabaga with a potato or vegetable peeler - really a mission impossible.
Next cut each piece into one inch cubes. Each semi-circle usually yields nine cubes by cutting 3 vertical slices and then three more perpendicular slices.
Now you're ready to cook your rutabaga.
Today we're going to be boiling our turnip or rutabaga using the tried and trusted cooking method of most Irish cooks.
So enough of my waffling, let's get down to cooking this tough little root. Here's my traditional recipe, handed down from my mother, and her mother before her.
Ingredients for Irish Style Mashed Rutabaga
Here you’ll find a quick list of what you’ll need for this recipe. Check out the printable recipe at the bottom of this post for US and Metric equivalent versions of the recipe. There you can choose the measurement system that works best for you.
Here's what you'll need:
- white pepper
- sour cream (optional)
- light brown sugar (optional)
Ingredient Tips and Substitutions
You might like to add a little chopped up bacon to the water you use to boil the rutabaga. It imparts lots of flavor to the final product.
Another option is to add a little bacon grease instead of the sour cream when mashing your rutabagas.
Sour cream is an optional ingredient. Irish people usually only add butter and mash away.
Also, a touch of brown sugar adds a lovely sweet hint to the finished product. This is an Irish American cooking tip. Other options are to add a dash of honey or maple syrup.
Some people like to add some minced garlic or a clove or two of garlic to the pot as the rutabaga simmers. This adds extra layers of flavor. A sprig or two of thyme is also another flavorful addition to the boiling water, but remove the sprigs once the rutabaga is cooked.
Directions for Cooking A Turnip Irish Style
Here you’ll find step-by-step photographic instructions to help you recreate this recipe successfully.
There are plenty of tips included along the way.
Cook by simmering
Peel and cube the rutabaga.
Add the diced rutabaga to a medium saucepan and cover it with cold water.
Some of the pieces will float in the water making it impossible to cover the top by an inch.
Season with salt at this point.
Make sure you add plenty of water though. If the pot boils dry the smell of burnt rutabaga is horrible. Believe me - I know from experience.
Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes until the rutabaga is fork tender.
It takes quite a long time to boil this tough little vegetable.
If you microwaved your rutabaga when peeling it, the cooking time will be a little shorter.
Mashing boiled rutabaga
Drain the boiling water once the rutabaga is cooked. Return it to the pot.
Use a potato masher to break it up. Add 2 tablespoons of butter. Season with salt and white pepper.
Most Irish people use white pepper since we don't like black flecks through mashed turnip.
Mash the rutabaga well together to make sure the melted butter is thoroughly mixed through.
Add the sour cream, if using, and mix through the rutabaga mash.
If you wish to limit how much butter you use, you can omit butter and increase the amount of sour cream used instead of using butter.
In Ireland we mash our yellow turnip with a potato masher. If you prefer a smooth purée with no texture, then you can use an immersion blender to blitz the cooked and drained rutabaga. Alternatively you can purée it in batches in a food processor or blender.
Sweetening mashed rutabaga or turnip
Sour cream flavor compliments the sweet yet tangy taste of the rutabagas. Some people like to purée the rutabaga in a food processor, but I prefer to leave a little bit of texture by using a potato masher.
Another tip to sweeten the rutabaga is to add a few teaspoons of brown sugar at this stage. It adds an extra layer of deliciousness.
I didn't grow up eating brown sugar sweetened turnips so I'm going to make this step optional.
What to Serve with Mashed Rutabaga
Served hot, as a side for roast turkey dinner, mashed rutabagas are simply delicious. It truly is an Irish American favorite side dish for Thanksgiving.
Other dishes that are extra delicious with mashed rutabaga include:
- boiled pork with sauerkraut as a side
- pork chops
- boiled bacon
- ham steaks
- roast lamb
- roast chicken
And for special dinners like Christmas and Thanksgiving we love to serve roast potatoes, with our turnips or rutabagas.
I love two nice, big mounds of rutabaga mash on my plate. Once I dined at a fancy restaurant in New Jersey.
I grew excited when I saw a pork dish on the menu with a side of rutabaga puree. Oh how disappointed I was when all I got was a yellow squiggle of rutabaga on my plate. It didn't fill a hole in my tooth.
So heap those rutabagas onto your plate. Not only do they taste great, they're good for you too.
Video for Mashed Yellow Turnip
Recipe Card for Mashed Rutabaga
Here's the printable recipe. Please feel free to save and print this recipe for your kitchen files. You'll find nutrition information with calories and dietary fiber information in the card below. Rutabagas are a good source of nutrients and antioxidants.
- 1 medium rutabaga peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons sour cream optional
- 2 teaspoons light brown sugar optional
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon white pepper optional
- Peel and cube the rutabaga. Add the diced rutabaga to a medium saucepan and cover it with cold water.
- Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes until the rutabaga is fork tender.
- Drain the boiling water once the rutabaga is cooked. Return it to the pot. Use a potato masher to break it up. Add 2 tablespoons of butter. Season with salt and white pepper and mash again.
- Add the sour cream, if using, and mix through the rutabaga mash.
- Add the brown sugar, if using, and mix through the rutabaga mash.
- Serve hot as a vegetable side dish for dinner.
Nutrition Information is estimated based on the ingredients and cooking instructions as described in each recipe and is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Please note that nutrition details may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients used.
Rutabags or Irish turnips may not be on everyone's menu, nor be to everyone’s taste. They probably fall firmly into either the 'totally love it' or 'completely hate it' category for nearly everyone.
Nevertheles, judging by all the wonderful comments on this blog post, readers around this little corner of the world wide web, definitely place it in the 'love it' category.
Here are some other Irish style side dishes you might like to try for Thanksgiving dinner.
Happy Thanksgiving cooking to all, and thanks for following my recipes and ramblings.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad -Irish American Mom
Pronunciation - slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th
Mairéad - rhymes with parade
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