Meliovore principal #2. Some days, the best vegetable is a raw vegetable. And if it started out looking like a cartoon version of Sputnik, so much the better.
It may be that there is nothing new under the sun, but kohlrabi’s are in season and they are completely new to me. I was admiring some in a bin on Clement Street and later the same day my husband happened to mention that kohlrabi was a vegetable he liked and would like to have again. I let him know that his wish was my command, and brought one home.
If you are getting acquainted with a new vegetable you need The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash. I am not familiar with the PBS TV series that spawned the cookbook but it has a lot of great recipes and basic practical information about preparing, cooking, storing and basically getting the best out of veggies. The cookbook is divided up into chapters by vegetable; and the Kohlrabi chapter told me that its origin is Eastern European with the name ‘kohlrabi’ being from the German kohl for cabbage, and rabi for turnip since, appropriately enough, the kohlrabi is a hybrid of both. Hmm, not inspiring, you might think. I am not the biggest fan of cabbage and turnips on their own. But just glancing at the more than a dozen kohlrabi recipes that Morash included, including many entrees, intrigued me; and I was trying to select one to try when my husband said that his family just always ate them raw like radishes. (His mother was raised on a farm in Nebraska, of Czechoslovakian ancestry like Willa Cather’s Antonia.)
In my book, there is no shame to serving veggies raw at the dinner table. in fact, our vegetable offering at dinner can often be a dish of cut-up, uncooked red peppers, cucumbers slices or whatever else might work as a crudite along with black olives instead of a hot steamed or blanched veggie or green salad. It seems to be less intimidating for our 9 year old, and it’s certainly easier for me if I am already cooking a couple of other more complex items or am pressed for time to get dinner on the table.
So I enthusiastically followed Morash’s directions to remove the stems, trim the bottom and peel the outer skin with a sharp paring knife ‘as if I were removing an orange skin.’ The flesh is whitish underneath and with the consistency of a radish but without the zippy bite that would make it, for me, too hard to eat in a large salad-sized portion. She suggested grating them for a slaw but my husband wanted larger pieces so I did some of both and put them out side by side. He enjoyed reconnecting with an old, familiar veggie and I thought it tasted nice enough, but then I put some Italian dressing on it and then – ta-da! – it really became something to write home about.
With my husband’s sister due to arrive from out of town for a visit with her husband in a couple of days, we bought some more of the stuff to serve with roast chicken and rice. My sister-in-law was conversant in kohlrabi, the name of which rolled off her tongue as well, saying that they had had a lovely kohlrabi soup during their recent cruise along the Danube River in Eastern Europe. I have to confess to being intrigued by this connection between the disparate regions – Eastern Europe and China and, apparently, the American Midwest – where the kohlrabi seems to be most popular. So when I am ready to move on from the raw stuff, dressed or undressed, I have to investigate making some dishes either out of the Czech canon or the Cantonese dishes that feature the kohlrabi (stir fries and dishes that call for turnip are typical). Chances are, they will also be a nice, inexpensive staple to keep on hand to add a new tasty component to vegetable and chicken stocks.
Here is a recipe for the Kohlrabi Salad we came up with to serve to company:
- 1-1/2 lb kohlrabis (1 good sized one)
- 2 medium apples (Granny Smith or Fuji are fine)
- 1/2 medium onion, sliced
- ground black pepper to taste
- 4 – 5 tbsp. vinaigrette or Italian salad dressing (I used Penzey’s Italian salad dressing base)
Wash, trim and peel the kohlrabis and cut into matchstick-sized pieces. Likewise, peel and cut up the apples and slice the onion. Toss these together in a bowl with the salad dressing and pepper. Let marinate for 30 minutes or more before serving. This will keep in the fridge a good three days.