What We Want / Kohlrabi
Photo by kc kratt
Unless you’re the kind of person who likes to pick up the “what is that?” produce at your local farmers market or you have a CSA share, there’s a fair chance you haven’t come across kohlrabi. The vegetable’s popularity has grown over the past half decade, but it still lags behind more staple veggies like peppers and beans and even en vogue greens such as kale. That’s a shame, as it’s a tasty treat raw, and, with a little love, something really special cooked.
“Kohlrabi is a ‘cole crop’,” says Emily Porter Swarner, promotions/marketing coordinator for Porter Farms in Elba. That means it’s a member of the mustard family and related to cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. Steve Gedra, chef and owner of The Black Sheep, compared it to another close relative, the turnip, crossed with celery root and a bit of radish. It may look like a tuber, but the main “bulb” of the kohlrabi is actually the swollen stem. Common color variants are similar to cabbage, including light green and purple.
“We started growing kohlrabi about five years ago, mostly because it was becoming popular,” says Porter Swarner. “Our wholesale accounts were getting requests for it, so we decided to give it a try.” Kohlrabi is generally in season around September. Porter Farms is able to offer it in late summer and fall as it “grows best in cool weather.”
As for their favorite preparations, both Porter Swarner and Gedra say they like to eat it raw. “I typically cut it up like carrot sticks, and my eight-year-old daughter will dip the sticks in hummus,” says the former. “It also tastes great raw in ‘kohl-slaw,’ like a typical cabbage slaw, but the taste is sweeter.”
Gedra recommends, “If you want refreshing, do a cold preparation. If you’re looking for something more intense, do the salt bake,” making a crust of salt, water, and flour that keeps the moisture in and allows you to steam the vegetable. “If you’re looking for something when you’re not sure about liking kohlrabi, then you can poach and add flavors that will balance out characteristics you don’t like,” he suggests.
The Black Sheep often has a poached kohlrabi dish on the menu when the vegetable is in season. The Middle Eastern spin is seasoned with turmeric to provide a nice yellow color and some sweetness. The veggie is paired with a spicy green harissa, rich burnt orange sauce, dukkah (a nut and spice mix), and sumac yogurt. The preparation is visually stunning, as well as a great contrast of flavors and textures, with the hearty kohlrabi tying it altogether.
To get started with kohlrabi at home, Gedra advises eating it raw. “That’s its purest form, obviously, so you’ll know if you hate it or not,” he says. “It’s cheap enough to play around with.”
Kohlrabi can be found at farmers markets, in CSA farm share-bags, and even in local supermarkets from time to time.
Nick Guy is an editor for Wirecutter and writes for other publications.