When I first saw a basket of kohlrabi on display at the grocer’s shop, I had absolutely no idea what it was. Hmm… I thought… could that be something worth trying? Always up for trying something different, I bought one and set about finding out what I could do with it.
Since then I’ve had a number of guests ask me what that strange looking vegetable is, the reason being that for many years, it was ‘out of fashion’ and used mostly to feed livestock. Thankfully, people are nowadays starting to rediscover just how versatile this vegetable is.
Kohlrabi is a cultivar of cabbage (in fact, kohl rabi means cabbage turnip in German) and, according to the lovely man at our local farm shop, will grow almost anywhere, making it ideal for anybody wanting to grow veg in their garden. If I can find a big enough container, I may well try some myself next year.
Kohlrabi can be quite big, about the size of a large turnip with several stems sticking out making it look a bit sputnik-ish. If you can find smaller ones, always go for those as they’re far more tender and sweet. They’re quite thick skinned though so peeling them can be a bit of a nightmare but I generally just chop off and peel a bit at a time, as I need it. Luckily, they keep for about a week in a paper bag in a dark cupboard or even longer, up to a fortnight, if kept in the fridge. They also freeze well - just chop them into chunks, blanch and freeze.
Taste and texture wise, they’re kind of a cross between a carrot and broccoli stems. The flesh is very pale and excellent to use grated in salads or boiled as a side vegetable or in stews and casseroles, the latter being exceptionally good because kohlrabi have a way of drawing other flavours to them. Because it has a mild flavour, kids are generally happy to eat it too. If you’re boiling kohlrabi, chop it into chunks or slices and boil in salted water for about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the pieces - they’re ready when they’re almost translucent. About 150g per person is a good sized portion for one of your five a day.
The most popularly available type around here are purple although white ones can sometimes be found too. I've heard that white ones can be more easily found than purple in other parts of the country though so I guess it depends on what the local farmers choose to grow. Taste wise, I haven’t noticed any difference though. Both also have the same nutritional qualities. They’re high in vitamin C and also contain magnesium and phosphorous, both of which help our bodies absorb calcium, and they have a decent amount of folic acid and potassium just waiting to be utilised too.
Fresh kohlrabi are available from late summer through to early spring so make a good winter vegetable as well as being useful in salads on warmer late summer days (assuming we ever get any of those, of course).
If you’ve never tried them I’d definitely give it a go. A kohlrabi won’t break the bank and you may just find that you love it :)
Quick Recipe: Kohlrabi Gratin
Serves 4 - 6
Half a large onion, thinly sliced 3 tablespoons butter About 900 g of kohlrabi 200 ml milk salt and freshly ground pepper chopped fresh parsley to garnish
1. Sweat the onion in half the butter until it’s soft and clear.
2. Peel the kohlrabi (if it’s big, peel it thickly so that the woody outer layer’s removed). Slice thinly and layer half with the onions and seasoning in a lightly buttered shallow ovenproof dish then add another layer of kohlrabi.
3. Pour in the milk and dot with the remaining butter.
4. Bake in the oven at 200c (gas mark 6) for about 1 ½ hours until tender.
5. Remove and garnish with parsley.
If you’re in a hurry, you can parboil the kohlrabi first then bake the gratin for 30-45 minutes.
Also, if you fancy something a little more luxurious, substitute half of the milk for single cream.