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Spring is a tease of a season. One day, it will offer a dose of warm weather, when we can leave our hats and gloves at home and luxuriate in feeling the sun on our skin; the next, there’s frost on the ground and snow in the forecast. I’m a March baby and as a little girl always held out hope I could have a pool party on my birthday—since it was spring, and it should have been warm enough to go swimming. Now, I don’t plan on changing out my wardrobe until May, and even then I keep a few sweaters around just in case.
The same kind of games take place when it comes to spring food. Our tastes can be as fickle as the weather, one day craving something warm and sweet while the next it’s all about arugula. The market can be uninspiring, as the earliest crops to reveal their tender green heads are things like garlic and onions—and while they’re great, they’re not really a meal (believe me, I’ve tried). The last few weekends of spring-straddling shopping have unearthed much of the same winter fare—carrots, kale, potatoes, squash—so I was especially excited to find a new friend to take home: turnips.
Before you close out this screen in disbelief that turnips would be a cause of celebration, I’ll confess that turnips did not immediately excite me. I was more pleased to have some variety, any variety, and as I walked home I began to think, slightly panicked: What am I going to do with these? There’s the Thanksgiving classic mashed turnips, and simple roasting of course, but I needed these little guys to get me out of my food rut. They needed to be something I wasn’t expecting.
And they delivered! Although they’re a root vegetable, and more associated with fall and winter produce accordingly, turnips have something a little different going on. Unlike other roots with a sweet, heavy quality, turnips belong to the mustard family (along with radishes)—they’re more astringent- and bitter-tasting, and have a bit of a bite similar to celery root. This makes them perfect for balancing kapha, the dosha of spring, while still holding onto some bulk for those which-season-is-it days.
I incorporated turnips into my spring kitchari this year for this very reason. Paired with other vegetables with some notes of the bitter/astringent category—celery, carrots, and apples—they made for a perfect blank canvas I could spice up or down. This recipe calls for a good amount of katu, or pungent, flavors in the seasoning of the vegetables; you could tone that down if you’re sensitive to spice (see Notes), or choose a sweeter seasoning with cinnamon and cardamom. I’ve been doing a lot with raisins lately—a natural laxative that lends a bit of sweet and chew to any meal—but you can leave them out if you’re not into the dry fruit. For a full-on sweet variety, you could also leave out the carrots and celery, and season the kitchari with coconut flakes and a drizzle of honey. Either way, we want the dish to be warming and lightening overall, which balances the cool heaviness of spring, so avoid adding too much extra oil.
While I normally cook the vegetables right in the pot with the grains and dal, this time I kept them separate so I could change up the mix-ins during my five-day monodiet (also, roasting the vegetables dries them slightly, whereas steaming/sautéing adds density). Barley is a great substitute for basmati rice in spring, since it also has astringent properties. If you’re gluten-free, stick with rice or try quinoa for a lighter grain base; you’ll just want to add it halfway through cooking the dal, since it will need less time to steam.
Barley Turnip Kitchari
- ½ cup pearled barley soaked 30 minutes to overnight
- ½ cup moong dal soaked 30 minutes to overnight
- ½ cup raisins
- 1 teaspoon mineral salt
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon hing optional
- 2 cups chopped carrots
- 2 cups chopped white turnips
- 2 apples chopped
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek or substitute whole cumin seed
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- 2 teaspoons raw honey optional, to serve
- 2 teaspoons unsweetened coconut flakes optional, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Bring 3 1/2 cups water to a boil in a medium sauce pan.
- Strain and rinse your barley and dal 2 or 3 times until the water runs clear. Add to the pot with the water, then add the raisins, salt, turmeric, and hing. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes over low heat. Do not stir. Check to see if the kitchari is drying out; if it is, add 1/2 to 1 cup of water.
- Arrange the chopped vegetables on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil, and sprinkle the fenugreek, ginger, pepper, and garam masala (see Note) evenly over the vegetables. Roast for 20 minutes, or until browned.
- Combine the porridge with the vegetables in bowls to serve. Garnish with additional spices, coconut flakes, or honey, as desired.