Monday, June 20, 2011

Meatless Monday: Beautiful, Delicious Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi. This vegetable with its exotic sounding name and alien (as from another planet) visage appeared on my radar about a month ago when a friend sent over this link. Then it showed up as a secret ingredient in a Chopped  box, leading to one chef’s downfall.  

Intrigued, I began looking for it in the market but couldn't find it anywhere. Finally, there it was in the strikingly beautiful purple variety — at CitySeed on Saturday morning for $1.50 a “globe.” I bought four.

Kohlrabi is a German word translating to Cabbage (kohl) Turnip (rabi), not Cool Rabbi as posited on this blog. It comes in two varieties — purple and white (actually pale green).  Although Brassica Oleracea Gongylodes Caulorapa (its Latin name) resembles the turnip, a root vegetable, kohlrabi’s globe grows above the ground and is actually the swollen part of the plant’s stem. That accounts for the globe’s smooth “skin.” 

Kohlrabi’s peak season is June-July. Low in calories and high in fiber, kohlrabi is an excellent of source of Vitamin C and potassium, and a significant source of vitamins A and E and a number of other minerals. Both the leaves and the globe are edible. 

Kohlrabi has been popular in the cuisine of Eastern Europe ever since its sudden appearance in the middle of the 16th century. Although somewhat less common in the the New World, kohlrabi shows up in all my trusted volumes — from Fannie Farmer to the more recent Simply in Season [unlike nettles and ramps].

James Beard [whom I normally revere] decidedly dissed kohlrabi, writing in American Cookery in 1972: “This is rather a bastard vegetable. It is neither turnip nor cabbage ad is seldom as tender and crisp as it should be. To me it is a mystery why people really care for it. But they seem to, and it is in the markets all the time and has been for generations…” [But JB didn’t like cranberries either]. 

Most older cookbooks (including Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker, Fannie Farmer, and American Cookery) offered a variation on the same recipe: Peel, cut into small cubes, cook in boiling salted water until tender, and then serve with freshly ground black pepper under a cream sauce or loaded with butter. Fannie did mention that kohlrabi was also good raw with salt as a snack or salad and was the first place I saw Parmesan cheese suggested as a topping.

More modern chefs have realized that this beautiful vegetable deserves better. This site has gathered a number of kohlrabi recipes.

I decided to prepare my kohlrabi two ways. I first coarsely grated half a globe and added it to a fresh lettuce salad.

Inspired by this recipe, the next evening I prepared roast kohlrabi with fresh Parmesan. I peeled the remaining bulbs, diced them, and then mixed them with a little extra virgin olive oil, two garlic pieces, and a little salt. I roasted them in a casserole dish in a 375° oven, stirring occasionally, until they were lightly browned and tender, approximately 30 minutes. [I did not remove the garlic.] I served them topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese as a side. The salty cheese enhanced the mild turnip flavor. 

There were no leftovers. Yet another hit with my omnivore husband. I’ll be making this again, particularly if it stays as cool as it’s been [ever since the day we installed our A/C]. 

Have a good week, and please come back soon for more food facts or my latest produce discovery.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”

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