“We have a preference, in this region of France, for the Early White Vienna and the Early Purple Vienna kohlrabi varieties.”
The Hundred Foot Journey, Richard C Morais
There have been quite a few recipes for kohlrabi in the press recently – prescient of the awakening of spring.
But it’s not always that easy to find in non-german speaking countries, or outside Kashmir where they eat a lot of it. So what is it and what constitutes a reasonable substitute if you can’t find it?
The name of this vegetable, kohlrabi is derived from two german-rooted [sic] words – Köhl which means cabbage as in Chancellor Köhl (can you imagine a Prime Minister Cabbage in the UK?… lovely thought…); and rabi which means turnip in the Swiss German (in Swiss French it’s almost the same – ravi). The rabi bit arises because the swollen stem of the kohlrabi looks a bit like a turnip…and also possibly because it has a sharp mustardy taste a bit like a summer baby turnip. It has a grainy texture, a bit like the stem of broccoli.
You can use both the stem and the root in cooking. Young kohlrabi are crisp and juicy – fleshier, sweeter and milder than the heart of a cabbage, but still retaining a sharpness. The scientific name for kohlrabi is brassica oleracea.
In terms of substitutes you can use spring greens, kale or cavolo nero instead of the leaves. For the swollen stem you could use turnips, radishes, the stems of broccoli (not surprising as the kolhrabi is itself a stem), or possibly some celeriac with a little added mustard.
How to use kohlrabi
You can use kohlrabi in both cold and hot dishes. Buy more than it looks as if you need. You will have to peel off both layers of skin and what you have left at the end of this process is a lot smaller than what you started with.
- It marries well with potato in all kinds of potato dishes, especially dauphinois.
- It’s good, for example, sliced and lightly salted, in salads.
- Add it to a chicken and potato soup
- Include it in a stir fry with chicken and other spring vegetables
- Make a kohlrabi and potato purée and serve it with a fried escalope of veal
- Add it to slaw. Particularly good combined with loquats
- or slice finely and make a salad with beetroot, apple, hazelnuts and radishes
- Put it in a vegetable lasagne with ricotta and gruyere…
- Make chips of it: cut into chip-size shapes, toss with some semolina seasoned with smoked salt and Indonesian long black pepper. Dry fry a little cumin seed. Remove to a pestle and mortar and crush, add a bit more salt. In the same wok, deep fry in very hot vegetable oil (rapeseed is good).. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with the salt-cumin mix. You can substitute the cumin with sweet, smoked paprika
- Cook, peeled and sliced, in chicken or vegetable stock for about fifteen minutes. Use the cooking water to make a white sauce. Season generously and mix in the drained kohlrabi. Good with a Wiener Schnitzel.
- Makes a brilliant remoulade, cut into thin matchsticks and mixed with parsley, yoghurt, mustard and sea salt. Pair with ham or smoked mackerel.