Sometimes the most boring vegetables are the most versatile.
Nothing signifies the start of summer for me quite like the appearance of kohlrabi in my weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) vegetable box. The irregularly shaped green bulbs appear in the first week of the 20-week summer farm share and continue throughout the entire season. Then, when I sign up for a winter CSA box, they're in there too, only bigger and tougher.
It often feels like I can't get away from kohlrabi, so perhaps its arrival in my kitchen at this time of year is not so much about the beginning of summer as it is marking the end of a brief kohlrabi-free period in my life between March and June.I find kohlrabi hard to love. It strikes me as a terribly boring vegetables, an odd blend of turnip, broccoli stem, cabbage, and seedless cucumber (if you can possibly imagine that). Its one ingratiating feature is its ease of preparation. It has no seeds, no core, and is solid the whole way through, much like a potato. (Oh, there's another vegetable it resembles! Poor kohlrabi, always getting compared to others.) After cutting off the leafy stems, you slice each end and thinly slice off the hard rind. But then, what to do with it?
I turned to Mark Bittman for advice, usually a trusty source of culinary information, but even he fell short when it came to kohlrabi. There wasn't a single recipe for kohlrabi in his 2,000-recipe compendium How to Cook Everything, aside from a brief description:
"A bizarre-looking vegetable that's treated like a turnip. The whole plant is edible, cooked or raw, but it's the bulbous stem base that's prized for its sweet, slightly piquant flavor and crisp texture... Best cooking methods: Steaming, sautéing, and roasting."
Alas, I've had to do my own experimentation and detective work to figure out how to get through these bulbs that last indefinitely in my crisper drawer. These are some of the ways in which I've learned to use up kohlrabi – and even grown to appreciate it, sort of – in case you find yourself in a similar situation.
1. Add it to liquidy dishes. Because of its inherent flavorlessness, I've discovered that you can add diced kohlrabi to pretty much anything that simmers for a while and you hardly notice it. Soups (minestrone and creamed), curries, braises, and stews are all good places for it.
2. Sauté in a stir-fry. Thinly sliced into matchsticks, it adds some nice crunch to a veg-tofu-noodle stir-fry. Add some strong sauce, like black bean garlic sauce, and it'll be quite delicious.
3. Grate it into coleslaw. Shred a cabbage, red onion, carrots, and kohlrabi for a crunchy, refreshing salad. There are so many options for sauce – Asian-style sesame dressings, the old-fashioned sugary vinegar dressing, mayo-based creamy dressing, or plain oil, salt, and vinegar.
4. Sauté it on its own. Sometimes I dice it and sauté in a pan with olive oil. It takes a while to soften, then caramelize, but this releases sugars and makes it taste quite good, like a milder turnip.
5. Stuff it. If you parboil a kohlrabi bulb, you can scoop the flesh out, fill it with a delicious cheesy filling, and roast until soft. Recipe here.
6. Bake it. I've seen a few recipes that use kohlrabi in a gratin-like way, thinly slicing and layering with onions, potatoes, mushrooms, grated cheese, and heavy cream. It's done after about an hour in the oven.
7. Marinate it. An unusual preparation, this recipe pre-boils the kohlrabi, then infuses them in a garlicky, spiced olive oil mixture. After 48 hours, the kohlrabi is a wonderful addition to an antipasto platter.
How do you like to prepare kohlrabi?