Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Kohlrabi: Spherical, but quite pointy in parts!

What is Sputnik doing in my CSA share?!

One of the best parts of a farm share is the surprises: the chances to meet a new ingredient head on, figure out what makes it tick like a tasty bomb, and eat it up. Kohlrabi is one that I'm still figuring out, and the friends with whom I do farm pickup have been left scratching their heads as well. It's only in the share a once or twice out of the year, and each year has slowly revealed its charms a little more. This year, I think I finally have its number.

CSA-share head-scratch staple kohlrabi, which looks like a more organic version of Sputnik (spherical, but quite pointy in parts!), is part of the largely familiar Brassica oleracea crew, which includes kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage (but not napa cabbage or bok choy, which are Brassica rapa). It's remarkable to think that they're all the same species, but, then again, so are chihuahuas and Irish wolfhounds.

I've had several fun conversations since recently discovering this fact examining which dog breed might best respresent each B. oleracea vegetable. Some highlights include Old English Sheepdog/cabbage, Labrador/broccoli, and Pug/Brussels sprouts. For kohlrabi, my favorite suggestion was the Komondor, a Hungarian herding breed that is typically styled with long white dreads. It's that dog that's pictured jumping on the cover of Beck's 1996 album Odelay.

The kohlrabi's name comes from the German names for cabbage, kohl and turnip, rübe (rabi is a dialectical variation that's stuck in English). My first impression of it was that it tasted much like a big broccoli stem. This isn't a problem, as I've always had a soft spot for that part of broccoli. Initially I treated it that way, slicing it up and throwing it in big stir fries and cutting it into stick-like vessels for hummus. And, in fact, kohlrabi is pretty tasty this way. Other people also make chips out of kohlrabi.

However, in quantity it has a slight, pleasant radishy-ness, and this was the key to this year's revelation: it's also something of a ringer for daikon radish. But, in some cases (all the fun ones), with more purple. In this case, I made a SE Asian-inspired salad, cutting the kohlrabi matchstick-style, dressing it simply with a blend of fresh lime juice, cilantro, Sriracha, salt and sugar, then topping it off with a healthy dose of toasted sesame seeds. This makes an excellent slaw-type side for grilled chicken or fish, and would be killer wrapped up as part of these as well.

Zippy Kohlrabi Slaw

vegan, gluten/grain-free
  • 1 large kohlrabi, matchstick cut
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • ¼ c. fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce or similar
  • 2 Tblsp. sesame seeds, toasted
Slice kohlrabi into thin matchsticks. I guess some people peel theirs, but where's the fun in that? Mix lime juice, salt, sugar, and hot sauce together and pour over. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. It tastes pretty good right off the bat, but tastes even better if it hangs out in the fridge for a few hours.

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