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Vegetarians in Paradise

On the Highest Perch

Kohlrabi Strives for Comeback

Includes Recipe Below

Kohlrabi, once the favored vegetable of European nobles and peasants alike, has fallen off the veggie pop charts. Oh, yes, you can find kohlrabi in the produce department of many supermarkets, but when the checker lifts the bunch out of the grocery cart, notice the look of puzzlement on his or her face. What follows is a flurry of activity at the cash register. First, the checker holds up the innocent vegetable and shouts to the closest checker, "What is this stuff?" Next, follows a rifling through the little book that lists the code numbers. Then as the checker pushes the poor kohlrabi toward the bagger, there's an exchange of puzzled expressions.

Vegetarians in Paradise predicts a hearty comeback for this neglected member of the Brassica oleracea family, more commonly called the cabbage family. Some people have mistakenly labeled kohlrabi a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. This is understandable since both are members of the brassica family, but they are not of the same species.

We can only guess that other more pungently flavored vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus have simply upstaged the kohlrabi whose flavor is mild and delicately sweet, its texture, crisp and moist. Though the flavor of kohlrabi is unassertive, delicate hints of cabbage and broccoli come to the foreground

Kohlrabi For those unfamiliar with this jewel of a vegetable, its appearance somewhat resembles a hot air balloon. Picture the turnip-shaped globe as the passenger section; its multiple stems that sprout from all parts of its globular form resemble the many vertical ropes, and the deep green leaves at the top represent the parachute. Kohlrabi is often mistakenly referred to as a root vegetable, but in fact it grows just above ground, forming a unique, turnip-shaped swelling at the base of the stem.

Kohlrabi possesses many attributes worth notice:

  • Low in calories, only 19 for a half cup raw, sliced
  • High in dietary fiber, 2.5 grams for one-half cup
  • Potassium content peaks at 245 grams for one-half cup
  • Vitamin content for that same one-half cup includes 25 I.U. vitamin A, 43.4 mg. vitamin C, 11.3 mcg folic acid, and 16.8 mg. calcium.
  • Of kohlrabi's two varieties the purple globe is sweeter and tastier than the apple-green. Both have a pale green, almost ivory colored, flesh inside. While the entire vegetable is edible raw or cooked, the small, young kohlrabi, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches (3.5 to 5 cm) in diameter, is ideal for its flavor and texture.

    Shoppers should choose small kohlrabi with its edible skin rather than the giant size with its woody, fibrous texture and inedible outer layer. The larger globes definitely need to be peeled. Kohlrabi is available year round with its peak season and sweetest flavor in spring through early summer.

    If airplanes were the common mode of travel from the Roman era up to the present, kohlrabi would have collected enough frequent flyer miles to travel the world several times over. Kohlrabi's beginnings are a little uncertain, but it existed in the 1st century AD since Pliny the Elder briefly mentions a Corinthian turnip, a vegetable that closely resembles kohlrabi's growing habits. Apicius, who wrote the oldest known cookbook on cooking and dining in imperial Rome, mentions the kohlrabi in his preparations.

    Charlemagne, who was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 800 AD, ordered kohlrabi to be grown in the lands under his reign. We connect Charlemagne with the French empire, but actually his home was in Aix-la-Chapelle which is now Aachen located in the Western portion of Germany. This fact accounts for kohlrabi's German name which means cabbage turnip.

    Kohlrabi found its way into Northern India in the 1600's where the Hindus considered it an important staple of their diet along with rice and greens. More recently, this unassuming vegetable is found in the cuisines of Israel, China and Africa.

    While kohlrabi was in common use throughout Italy, France and Germany from Charlemagne's era up to the present, Americans have never given it much notice. Here, people in the South were the only ones to enjoy kohlrabi along with their greens.

    Select small kohlrabi no larger than 2 1/2 inches (6 cm) in diameter, with the greens still attached. The greens should be deep green all over with no yellowing. Although kohlrabi stores well, up to one month refrigerated, yellow leaves indicate that the vegetable is not fresh.

    Remove the stems by pulling or cutting them off the kohlrabi globe. Stems and leaves can be chopped and included in a tossed salad. Their flavor is mild and takes well to salad dressing. If the kohlrabi is small, there is no need to peel it, however you may want to cut off the tough base end. If you've purchased large kohlrabi, peel it and slice off the tough woody base before slicing or dicing.

    Slice or cut into julienne and include on a relish tray with dips.

    Coarsely grate kohlrabi into a tossed salad. Because it is mild, succulent and porous, it absorbs the flavor of a mild or pungent salad dressing quite well.

    Dice kohlrabi and combine with your favorite vegetables and dressing for a chopped salad with delightful crispness.

    Slice kohlrabi, wrap in plastic, and pack in your brown bag lunch for a crunchy snack.

    Chop and include as one of the ingredients in a raw soup.

    Slice kohlrabi or cut into bite-sized pieces and put into a saucepan with 1/2 inch (1 cm) of water. Add a dash of salt, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to low and steam for 5 to 7 minutes. Leaves can be steamed lightly just as you would do spinach.

    Slice or chop kohlrabi and toss in a bowl with a little extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with a dash of salt, and wrap in aluminum foil (shiny side inside). Place on the grill and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes.

    STIR FRIED Dice or chop into bite-size pieces and stir fry 5 to 7 minutes in a little extra virgin olive oil with a clove or two of minced garlic and a dash of salt.


    Yield: 4 servings

    4 medium kohlrabis, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
    1 1/2 cups (360 ml) chopped Napa cabbage
    1/4 pound (115g) snow peas, chopped
    1/2 to 1 fresh pasilla (poblano) pepper, diced or 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
    1/2 red bell pepper, cut into fine julienne about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long
    3 green onions, chopped
    3 tablespoons organic canola oil
    2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
    1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
    1/2 inch (1 cm) piece ginger, peeled and grated
    Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
    2 teaspoons sesame oil
    Dash of rice vinegar
    Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

    Black sesame seeds
    2 tablespoons minced green onions

    1. Combine all the ingredients, except the black sesame seeds and green onions, in a large bowl and toss well to distribute the seasonings evenly.
    2. Transfer to an attractive serving bowl or platter and garnish the top with the black sesame seeds and minced green onions.
    3. This salad is best if made several hours ahead to allow the dressing to penetrate the vegetables.
    4. Serve as a salad course or a side dish.

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