Kohlrabi

kohlrabi2Kohlrabi is an odd newcomer to our markets and edible gardens. Kohlrabi is German for cabbage (kohl)  turnip (rabi). Whereas brussel sprouts, also of the cabbage (brassica) family, is swollen leafage above ground, kohlrabi is a swollen stem above ground: hence, not a tuber. Both are relatively new vegetables,  descendents of wild cabbage and were first recorded growing in norther Europe in the mid-16th century (only some 500 years old instead of 5,000 like most of our vegetables). A superfood, kohlrabi is rich in calcium, iron, phosphorus, vitamins A and C, and historically has been used for strengthening bones, teeth and gums. The leaves are  nutritious and tasty as well.

Kohlrabi comes in two colors, a pale green and purple but both have pale green, crisp flesh. It’s best to pick kohlrabi when small because the larger ones become woody and must be peeled. Small kohlrabi may be eaten raw or cooked,  and larger kohlrabi are best blanched or steamed. Kohlrabi taste sweet, juicy and freshly crisp.

And kohlrabi is easy to grow and quick to reach maturity in early summer. You can plant kohlrabi in succession so you have harvest all the way into fall. Harvest kohlrabi when it is about tennis ball size, small so that the skin is tender and thin. Select orbs that are free of cracks and splits, and whose leaves are not yellow or wilted. You may remove the leaves for salad, soup or cooked greens (a substitute for kale or spinach). They stay fresh in the refrigerator unwashed for about 4-5 days. The orbs keep for 2-3 weeks stored in the refrigerator.

kohlrabi salad
(adapted from a Diamond Organics recipe)

6 small-medium kohlrabi, stems and leaves removed, peeled or unpeeled
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame or olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon of fresh, minced ginger
1 tablespoon of fresh, chopped tarragon (from the garden of course)
1/4 teaspoon chopped chili pepper (from the garden) or pepper flakes
1 small red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
salt to taste
1. If the kohlrabi are small to medium, you needed not peel, boil or blanch them unless you prefer. I cut them, raw and unpeeled, into small julienne strips and place in a salad bowl. If you do prefer, peel the kohlrabi, slice into small strips and boil for 2 minutes. Shock under cold water, drain and place in a salad bowl.
2.In a small bowl, prepare the dressing. Whisk together rice wine and red wine vinegars, oil, ginger, tarragon, red pepper and salt.
3. Pour the dressing over the kohlrabi and toss well. Cover and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.To serve, add the red onion and toss. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

ragout of turnips, kohlrabi and peas
(from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 spring onions or shallots, halved
6 small turnips, quartered
3 kohlrabi, peeled and quartered
1 thyme or lemon thyme sprig
1 pound of pod peas, shelled
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
a few handful of baby spinach [or substitute kohlrabi leaves]
dollop of creme fraiche
4 large basil leaves, slivered

Melt butter in a skillet and add the onions, turnips, kohlrabi and thyme. Add water to cover halfway and a teaspoon of salt. Simmer while you shuck the peas.When the vegetables are tender, after 12-15 minutes, add the peas, spinach and cook until the spinach has wilted, a few minutes more. Stir in creme fraiche and add the basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. With a starch (puff pastry, ravioli, buttered toast), it can be offered as a vegetarian main dish.

Kohlrabi can be boiled or steamed and mash with herb butter (See earlier Herb entry). It is very versatile quartered and added to soups.

Despite its oddity, it can quickly become a staple on your table and a healthy addition to your diet. What’s your favorite kohlrabi recipe?

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