If ever a vegetable needed a marketing makeover, it’s kohlrabi. This delightfully crunchy, slightly sweet vegetable suffers from the double whammy of having a funny name and an even odder appearance. It’s popular in Asia and Europe, but here in the U.S., we’ve been cultivating kohlrabi since the 19th century and it hasn’t caught on.
Is it the name? Kohlrabi literally means “cabbage-turnip” in German, but that doesn’t do justice to kohlrabi’s flavor and texture, which are more like jicama or water chestnuts.
And then there’s the way it looks –”like a scientist’s experiment gone haywire,” as Sylvia Thompson describes it in her excellent book The Kitchen Garden: A Passionate Gardener’s Comprehensive Guide to Growing Good Things To Eat.
Looking at it, you’d think kohlrabi was some sort of root vegetable, but it’s actually a swollen stem that grows above ground, like an alien creature hovering over the soil. The stem is either white or purple. They reportedly taste much the same but the purple varieties are certainly more striking (though once you peel them they, too, are white inside). The leaves are similar to collard greens, and are equally tasty. So if you buy a bunch of kohlrabis at the farmers market, don’t discard the leaves!
Vegetable farmers and home gardeners love to plant kohlrabi because it’s so easy to grow; pests apparently aren’t drawn to it any more than we are. So, as long as you give it at least a half day of sun and plenty of moisture, you’ll be rewarded with peculiar white or purple ping-pong ball-shaped stems that taste delicious raw or cooked. Don’t wait till your kohlrabi’s the size of a baseball to harvest it; the texture may turn tough and woody.
In the summer, raw kohlrabi’s crisp, refreshing texture makes it an ideal ingredient in salads and this excellent Kohlrabi Summer Slaw recipe. You could also sauté or steam it. When you grate kohlrabi, this quirky-looking vegetable turns into innocuous white shreds, so liven things up a bit by adding beets as we do–their bright red coloring will rub off on your kohlrabi and give it a rosy glow. Not that kohlrabi has anything to blush about! This is one vegetable that holds its stem up high, and rightly so. Why not give it a try?