"like Humpty Dumpty hiding in a hedge" Riverford
I have never in my life tasted kohlrabi, so here are a couple of quotes to describe what it tastes like:
"It has about it the texture and crunch of a radish and something of the taste of a mild turnip, cauliflower or broccoli stem, making it a tasty addition to summer salads and stir-fries." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
"The eclectic Alice B. Toklas once particularised kohlrabi's taste as' having the pungency of a high-born radish bred to a low-brow cucumber.'" Bert Greene
Having now read many cooks and food writers attempt to describe the taste I have decided that basically it is mildly cabbage like - lots likened it to the taste of broccoli stalks,a little bit peppery and also crunchy. Plus it's versatile. Matt Preston, who describes it as: "this most loneliest of veg, an unloved and misunderstood wallflower" - sets out all the basic methods you can use to cook it, which it seems to me covers just about every way you can cook anything.
I'm also pretty sure I had never encountered it before I came to Australia, even though it seems to be a European vegetable, loved by the Germans and Eastern Europeans, the Cypriots and the Greeks. The Kashmiris and the Vietnamese also seem to be keen on it with Kashmir having a 'classic's dish called
Monji haakh - a recipe for which can be found on the website Spice Roots.
The rest of us though seem to be less keen. Maybe it's the name - translated directly from the German and meaning 'cabbage turnip' - both of which are a bit of a turnoff. I know there are massive attempts to make cabbage trendy, but I reckon there is still a lot of resistance to it as a vegetable (except in coleslaw) because of its evil English boiled to death reputation. Ditto for turnips - which I still don't go for, even though the French seem to love them. And even though I have given it the tag of 'root vegetable' it isn't a root - it's a swollen stem - like Fennel.
I was pretty sure that you could buy them in the supermarkets here, but I have just checked and neither Coles nor Woolworths have them, even though theoretically it is the height of its season. So maybe kohlrabi has gone back to being fed to the cows, which is what used to happen to it. Even Jane Grigson is not that keen, saying in her Vegetable Book - "There are better vegetables than kohlrabi." Although she does add the caveat: "And worse.": And on a website called Eating Dirt I found a somewhat amusing tale of the author's first experience of kohlrabi as a child, when her mother:
"peeled it, cut it into cubes and then served it up with toothpicks. "It's delicious!" she announced, slurping her lips to let us know of her love for the thing.
But it was not delicious. Nor was it minty, or sweet. Maybe a little bit refreshing, in a watery sort of way, with a strong whiff of broccoli. Finding it all around objectionable, the three of us squealed in horror and ran out into the yard, never to touch kohlrabi again." Eating Dirt
Now a mother herself the author, finding herself with some in her trendy delivered veggie box, served up a chickpea and kohlrabi stew from Stephanie Alexander with the final verdict being:
"The best part about kohlrabi? I told my kids it was potato, and they believed me. Maybe next time one arrives with the produce I'll get out some toothpicks and reveal my duplicity." Eating Dirt
So why on earth am I writing about it today - other than a lack of inspiration? Well I was inspired by this scrumptious looking vegetarian offering from Ixta Belfrage in her recently published book Mezcla - which I have just bought. No - I have just been given it as a birthday present - or rather a substitute present because I had the initial gift - Belinda Jefferey's A Year of Sundays - already. Seeing this made me realise that I had never written about kohlrabi and I was a little bit curious, so I decided to rectify the omission.
And sorry - this recipe is not online as yet. Mind you it's pretty simple, you peel and slice the kohlrabi into steaks 2cm thick, roast them in the oven with oil and salt until soft and then cover with the sauce which consists of melted butter, garlic and salt added when butter is brown then swirl in miso, lemon juice, capers and herbs (parsley and chives). Let me know if you want the recipe. I'm guessing you could do the same thing with celeriac or cauliflower, maybe even broccoli and/or cabbage itself. No chilli in this one either, although I guess if you are a chilli freak you could also add that.
Delia doesn't do kohlrabi, and neither, more surprisingly do Nigella or Jamie. Jamie especially - you would have thought he would champion it as he is really into vegetables these days. Others however, adventurous cooks all, embrace it beginning with my bookshelves and Bert Greene who way back when was extolling its virtues, which included the fact that it's packed with vitamin C and anti-inflammatories.
The dish I picked from his selection was called Kohlrabi Morvandelle. The recipe is online at the Burr Oak Gardens website, but there was no picture. However, it is basically a variation on Julie Child's Rapée Morvandelle - which is a kind of gratin of ham, potato and eggs. And gratins are one of the things that other cooks did as well.
Modify to your heart's content I guess. You grate the kohlrabi, which I'm thinking means that you could grate it into a frittata, or a fritter, a scone, bread ...
Slaws were popular, and just to ring the changes on the salad theme we have Kohlrabi carpaccio from Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall and Pork belly banh mi with pickled pears and kohlrabi from Curtis Stone.
You can fry and/or roast them too - Fritti misti from Ottolenghi; Spiced kohlrabi fritters with tahini yoghurt dressing from Sarah Hobbs and Spicy kohlrabi wedges from Mark Diacono of River Cottage. I confess this photograph is of somebody else's kohlrabi chip kind of things, but I'm sure they look similar.
All of which recipes would be infinitely variable - different spices, different dips/sauces, different flavourings ...
Then there are the experimentalists - Nigel Slater and the Ottolenghi/Ixta Belfrage combination:
Kohlrabi with tomatoes and Mackerel with kohlrabi and cornichons from Nigel Slater - although I suppose the latter is really just a slaw accompaniment; Barley, tomato and watercress stew and Spicy berbere ratatouille with coconut salsa - Yotam Ottolenghi/Ixta Belfrage
Ok - it's a another boring list of dishes I suppose. I think the main thing I got from this look at a rare vegetable is that it's probably a bit like chicken - bland and therefore open to all manner of additions and options. I mean if the very cabbagey cauliflower can become trendy then why not kohlrabi? All of the writers I looked at seemed to be saying that it was ugly. Personally I think it's rather beautiful. Not that I shall be rushing out to find one and experiment.
Incidentally they also say they should be no bigger than a tennis ball, smooth skinned and heavy - and that you really must remove the woody skin. You can eat the leaves too. So if you are one of those with the delivered vegetable boxes and you one day get one included don't despair, there is a world of options out there. Peel it and go from there.