Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Got Kohlrabi?

Poor kohlrabi. Hardly anyone pays it any mind. And usually if they do, they quickly dismiss it as “that-weird-alien-pod-looking-thing-I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with.” Or worse, diss it as something Jabba the Hutt might snack on between frogs and monkey lizards.

This member of the cabbage family flummoxes people with its unfamiliar shape, which looks as if it must be a missing piece of something else–and surely not the edible part! But yes, that green or violet, bulbous stem (and it is, in fact a stem–not a root) is edible, and once you peel back the rough exterior, the pale celadon flesh is sweet, juicy, and versatile–and fairly cries out for all manner of preparation. If you've ever tasted the peeled stem of very fresh broccoli, think sweeter and milder and juicier, and you've got the general idea. Taste- and texture-wise, it has been compared to a cucumber or a young turnip (or a cross between the two). The dark green leaves, which may or may not still be sprouting from the kohlrabi globes by the time they arrive at market, are similar to collard greens and can be cooked in the same ways (alas, the ones pictured above arrived without their greens).
As soon as I got the hang of what to do with it, I began enjoying kohlrabi’s appearance in our CSA share and at farmers’ markets. Cooked, the vegetable becomes mellower and sweeter, holding its crispness when sautéed and stir-fried, and becoming soft and tender when steamed or boiled for longer periods of time. Cubed, it roasts nicely alongside winter squashes. Pureed into a creamy fall soup, kohlrabi becomes silky and luscious. Elizabeth Schneider, in her always useful Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini, offers kohlrabi preparations from around the world, including a spiced Indian soup with chickpeas and tomato; Vietnamese spring rolls; and Swedish meatballs with baby kohlrabis (!). This recipe for kohlrabi tsatsiki, which appeared in New York Magazine, makes a tasty sauce for roasted lamb. And while I'm at it, here are some additional kohlrabi links, from Simply Recipes.

While kohlrabi is mellow and sweet when cooked, my favorite preparation is simple and raw, as a respite from all the roasted and braised fare on the fall table. At the most minimal, it can be chopped and dipped into hummus or herbed, fresh ricotta. But it’s also nice tossed in salads and slaws with other fruits of the season.

This weekend, I picked up pounds of purple kohlrabis, along with my pie pumpkin, from Marble Valley Farm in Kent, CT. Like many farms in the Northeast, this one took a beating during the freakish weather that whipped through this summer and fall. Many fall crops perished, but the tenacious little kohlrabis hung on. Any vegetable that can survive a hurricane, Biblical flooding, more flooding, and 18 inches of tree-splitting October snow is a hero in my book.

If you come across this crazy-looking vegetable in the coming weeks, why not give it a try? Better yet, include some in your Thanksgiving celebration. In the very least it will serve as a conversation starter, and you'll more than likely sell your fellow feasters on the virtues of kohlrabi. Cut the peeled globes into pretty half-moons as a seasonal addition to a healthy vegetable platter (serve raw or quickly blanched). Or if you have a bunch, as I do right now, try the slaw recipe below, which you can think of as an guideline for whatever other flavors and colors you would like to incorporate; think shredded radishes, thinly sliced celery, or a little julienned raw kale. The recipe is a variation on our go-to summer slaw, which we enjoy every 4th of July with slow-smoked pork shoulder, but this version has a bit more snap and substance, in keeping with the season. I use a little bit of mayonnaise to round the whole thing out, but if you prefer to leave the mayo out, you can certainly substitute the equivalent amount oil, or adjust to your liking. Either way, the recipe still comes across as light without being austere, and serves as a refreshing break from the barrage of ultra-rich dishes that are bound to come our way this week. 

Wishing you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Kohlrabi and apple slaw  
Serves 4-6  
  • 2 medium kohlrabis, leaves and leaf stalks removed 
  • 1 large, red crisp apple (like Ida Red or Jonagold)  
  • 6 scallions, whites and pale green parts sliced into thin rounds 
  • Optional: 1 bulb fennel and/or 2 medium carrots  
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard  
  • 1 Tablespoon mayonnaise (preferably not a sweet one–I like Trader Joe’s organic) 
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar 
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil, sunflower oil, or grape seed oil 
  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds (add more at the end, if desired) 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • Optional: sunflower seeds or toasted, chopped walnuts

  • Peel kohlrabi either with a vegetable peeler, or, if skin is tougher, cut off ends with a sharp knife and rest on a flat side on a cutting board, then carefully cut off outsides, going down and around–make sure you remove not just the visible skin, but the fibrous layer just underneath it. Next, julienne or shred either by hand, on a mandoline, or in a food processor. I prefer to cut kohlrabi into thin matchsticks that retain their crunch.
  • Julienne apples in the same manner as you did kohlrabi, keeping peel on (you can toss them in a little lemon juice to prevent browning). If you’re using other vegetables, peel and treat in the same manner. Put all vegetables in a large bowl and set aside. 
  • To make dressing, whisk together mustard, mayo, vinegar, and oil in a separate bowl. Taste, and add salt and cracked pepper as desired. If you would prefer not to use mayonnaise, substitute an extra Tablespoon oil, more if dressing still tastes too acidic for your liking. When ready to serve, drizzle dressing over vegetables and toss. Sprinkle in caraway seeds. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed. Slaw can be tossed up to a half hour before serving, and refrigerated.