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The winter market: Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi. (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

This is the first year we’ve had a farmers market through the winter in Saranac Lake. I love it!

I wondered what vegetables would be available through the winter. The market still has squash, Brussels sprouts, a variety of root veggies (like carrots, turnips, beets). There are also greens grown in their greenhouse, like lettuce and spinach.

One vegetable at the market many folks are less familiar with is kohlrabi. It is relatively unknown in the U.S., this member of the brassica or cruciferous family is quite popular in northern and central Europe, particularly Poland, Germany and France. We know it was popular in Ancient Rome because it is mentioned in the writings of Pliny the Elder and in the recipes of Apicius, the oldest known cookbook author. Charlemagne was so fond of kohlrabi that he ordered it grown in the Holy Roman Empire; that may account for its popularity to this day in Germany and France.

The English word derives from the German, Kohl meaning cabbage and Rabi meaning turnip. That is why it is often known as the “turnip cabbage.” Like other members of the cabbage family, it is fairly winter hardy and can be left in the ground after frost hits; this accounts for its popularity in northern European countries and makes it a good vegetable for North Country gardeners.

Like other cruciferous veggies, kohlrabi has many health benefits. With just 19 calories in a half-cup serving, it is an excellent source of fiber, potassium, calcium, vitamins A and C, and folic acid. The greens are a good source of iron. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola and Larry L. Frieders, R.Ph,, kohlrabi helps to stabilize blood sugar and so is good for those with diabetes and hypoglycemia.

Often mistaken for a root vegetable, kohlrabi is not a root at all. The round bulb grows above ground, as part of the stem. They come in both pale green and purple colors, though once peeled, the inside is ivory white with the palest hint of green. In the fall, the leaves and stems can be added to leafy salads or cooked like spinach. The skin and root tip can be a bit tough, so it is best to peel them.

At the market, people who see me buying the shiny round globes often ask how to prepare them. Look for bulbs no bigger than three inches in diameter (the larger ones can be tough and woody). To use, peel the tough, shiny skin and slice, dice or shred the kohlrabi.

You can add it raw to a salad, shred it along with carrots for a winter salad, or cut into sticks and serve with a dip. Crisp, juicy, succulent and porous, it easily absorbs the flavors of dressings and sauces.

To cook, cut into bite-sized pieces, add just a little water and a dash of salt, and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes. It cooks quickly, about 5 minutes, and is good seasoned with a bit of garlic or onion.

It is good added with other veggies (like carrots) to asian stir-fries. Roast along with other veggies. Try it sliced into rings along with carrots, sprinkled with a little fresh parsley and baked au gratin. Use it along with or in place of potatoes in a scalloped potato-kohlrabi dish. Or cook and mash along with potatoes for a subtly different flavor. Or add to a quiche or frittata with broccoli or kale.

Raw or cooked, kohlrabi is a delicious addition to your vegetable repertoire!

Simple Kohlrabi

Side Dish

Ingredients:

1 small onion

1 teaspoon olive oil or butter

Salt & pepper

2 kohlrabi

Water or broth

1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)

1/2 cup fresh minced parsley (optional but adds color and flavor)

Directions:

Peel and dice the onion.

Melt butter or heat oil in skillet or saucepan. Add onion; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook 3 to 4 minutes,until translucent.

In the meantime, peel and dice the kohlrabi. Add, suate with the onion and other 3 to 4 minutes. If you like it more tender add a few tablespoons liquid (broth, water or even apple juice) and cook, stirring occasionally, until desired tenderness is achieved.

Remove from heat. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of fresh-squeezed lemon juice and stir. Stir in minced parsley. Adjust for seasonings and add salt & pepper if needed.

Asian Style

Kohlrabi Slaw

Ingredients:

1 large kohlrabi

1 teaspoon salt

1 medium carrot

1 sweet onion

1 or 2 stalks celery

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup

1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice (can substitute lemon)

1 teaspoon peanut oil (or other salad oil, like olive oil)

1/8 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)

¼ cup nuts (almonds, peanuts, cashews, etc.)

1/2 cup fresh minced parsley

Directions:

Peel the kohlrabi, then cut into 1/8-inch slices. Stack them and cut into julienne 1/8-inch slices. (Alternately, use a mandoline, or shred).

Place the kohlrabi in a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon salt, mix well and set aside for 20 minutes. The liquid thus released will make the kohlrabi very crunchy.

In the meantime, toast the nuts for 1 to 2 minutes in a dry skillet; set aside. Slice the carrot the same way as the kohlrabi and place in the salad bowl. Peel and dice the onion, slice the celery, and add.

Place the kohlrabi in a colander and rinse well, then drain. Add to the bowl with the carrots.

In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, honey, lime juice, oil and chili. Stir into veggies. Garnish with toasted nuts and fresh minced parsley.

Kohlrabi, potatoes

and carrots

This elegant side dish goes well with fish or chicken and is my favorite way to cook kohlrabi.

Ingredients:

2/3 cup vegetable broth or water

1/2 teaspoon salt (if using water)

1 kohlrabi

1 carrot

1 potato

1/4 cup fresh minced parsley

1 Tablespoon butter

Directions:

Peel and dice the kohlrabi. Bring broth to boil, add kohlrabi, lower heat, and cook about 5 minutes. In the meantime, dice the carrot; add. Then peel or scrub and dice the potato, and add. Keep an eye on the amount of liquid; if it goes dry, add a little more water or broth. When vegetables are tender, test for seasoning; add additional salt and pepper, if needed. Stir in parsley and butter. Serve warm.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.

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