Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in the D.C. area & beyond

Category: Vegetables

Meet my new friend, Kohlrabi

I had spied this strange pale green guy at the market long ago.

I wondered what it was. A blanched beet? A spidery wild cabbage? A leafy green married to a veggie tuber?

But as this interminable German winter is dissipating, I thought – who cares what it is! I better buy one soon! What if this little alien decided to lift off and disappear?

Kohlrabi

My line-up of Kohlrahi. Can you identify the perpetrator?

And so, here we are. Faced with Kohlrabi, aka a German turnip.

I felt rather certain that I hadn’t seen this vegetable before and that it would be missing in action from my favorite cookbooks. But nope. There it was.

Image

Here’s how “The Flavor Bible” describes it:

“Kohlrabi is an underrated vegetable. I admit it has not always been one of my favorites, but it has grown on me over the years. Now, I love it. I can’t precisely place its flavor, which is somewhere between a turnip, radish, and cauliflower.” – Vitaly Paley, Paley’s Place in Portland, Oregon

Vitaly goes on to say how versatile it is. His favorite way to make it is grilled or roasted and drizzled with olive oil and sea salt. (I was intrigued, but my grillmaster was absentee.)

Then I turned to Mark Bittman. I am ridiculously delighted when I find a gap in his classic “How to Cook Everything,” (it must be my old copy-editing self, the way-too-literal side of my brain). But he had kohlrabi covered:

“A bizarre-looking vegetable that’s treated like a turnip. The whole plant is edible, cooked or raw, but it’s the bulbous steam base that’s prized for its sweet, slightly piquant flavor and crisp texture.”

Peeling was recommended, but first, I wanted to peek inside.

Kohlrabi

A Kohlrabi butt

I trimmed the arms off, turned it over, and sliced it in half.

Kohlrabi in half

Two halves make a whole Kohlrabi

Here’s the inside. It looked rather like the inside of an apple or a radish to me.

Kohlrabi slices

Kohlrabi slices

Having no earthly idea what to do with it, I hacked it into slices.

The taste is very fresh, sort of like the great hit you get from an apple straight from the tree – but not sweet. Raw Kohlrabi is crisp, like a radish, but with the flavor impression of a snap pea plucked from a garden tendril. Very nice.

But I couldn’t eat all that raw Kohlrabi. I needed to cook it.

Kohlrabi gratin? Kohlrabi risotto? Roasted Kohlrabi?

I was still confused what Kohlrabi would taste like cooked, so I turned to “The Flavor Bible” for ideas. It recommended, among other things, soy sauce. Recommended cooking techniques included stir-fry.

So that’s where I headed. (Plus, we had leftover steak and rice from last night, and a red bell pepper waiting to be used. And we always have garlic and onions.)

Ten minutes later, my first Kohlrabi lunch:

Kohlrabi stir fry

Kohlrabi stir fry

The Kohlrabi softens nicely, with a clean, savory taste that fit in with everything else well. I even got daring after a test bite and squirted fish sauce over the entire pan!

Kohlrabi turned out to be simpler to deal with than other veggies, like artichokes or even pesky broccoli with all its florets. I think Kohlrabi will definitely be circling for a return visit.

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April farmer’s market loot in Germany

Market produce in Germany in April

Market produce in Germany in April

The winter edge is starting to wear off, slowly but surely, after the coldest March and the darkest winter on record.

Here in Southern Germany, the markets blooming with produce.

Here’s what I picked up this weekend. The lemon is from afar – Spain, I think – but the rest is local.

We’ve also hit upon the start of spargel season, the beloved asparagus, white or green, found during these brief weeks on restaurant menus all across the city. Spargel is still rather expensive, around $10 a pound at the farmer’s market, but the price will fall as the season nears its peak. (I leaned this the hard way after paying 9€ last year, in a newcomer’s green excitement.) I’m waiting now for a thick bundle of white stalks to peel down to their pearly cores and grill to that divine crunchy sweetness.

Fresh potatoes

Fresh potatoes

I baked up a batch of these potatoes today, so freshly dug up that they were smeared with dirt. I love that, a sort of authenticity badge of real food straight from the fields to the farmers’ trucks to our downtown market. Not plastic wrapped or infused with preservatives. Just dirt.

I find them delicious roasted very simply, tossed with olive oil and spices, and baked for 15-20 minutes around 375-400F degrees. Old Bay is nice, barbeque spices are tangy and sweet. My current favorite potato spice mix is paprika, oregano, sea salt, and pepper.

Dill, leeks mushrooms

Dill, leeks mushrooms

Leeks are a staple throughout winter. And despite all my American cookbooks warning me against the gritty dirt found in leeks, the German ones I’ve bought have been clean as a whistle. These are going to be chopped, sauteed in butter, and served with potatoes and steak.

Dill is a such a wonderful bright, spring flavor. I plan to sprinkle it on green beans with garlic and lemon and remember our Turkish cooking class.

I don’t know what the mushrooms will be destined for, but they were so irresistibly mellow and fresh. Any ideas?

Kohlrabi (German turnip)

Kohlrabi (German turnip)

This bulbous mysterious thing is one of my two cooking adventures of the week. Meet kohlrabi, otherwise known as a German turnip. I’ve read so far that you can eat it raw quite happily or cook it up. I’m debating between a kohlrabi gratin, kohlrabi fries, and kohlrabi risotto. Any votes?

Onions

Onions

Onions are Zwiebeln are onions. Same as in the States. But so pretty, tucked in a crisp brown bag.

Romanesco broccoli

Romanesco broccoli

Here’s adventure No. 2 of the week: Romanesco broccoli, aka Roman cauliflower. I’ve been eying it all winter, wondering what it was, delighting in its weird, alien-like spikes. I have no earthly idea how to use it yet, but I imagine, should no intriguing recipes turn up, I’ll roast it like cauliflower, with olive oil and garlic. You can’t go wrong with those two.

Brussel Sprouts from Heaven

Upon request from Olga, the coolest grill master I know.

Adapted from “My Berlin Kitchen” by Luisa Weiss, a memoir sprinkled with yummy recipes from the creator of The Wednesday Chef blog. Highly recommended. Her recipes from her Berlin kitchen are in U.S. metrics, so I end up converting them these days for my Stuttgart kitchen, a sort of children’s telephone game. Which makes me laugh for some reason.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts from Heaven

This recipe jammed with fish sauce, chili flakes and lemon is ideal “to taste,” if you know what I mean. And if any of those ingredients sound dreadful to you, we may not have the same idea of heaven …

  • 500 grams (1 pound, more or less) brussel sprouts
  • olive oil
  • sprinkle of chili flakes
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lemon
  • fish sauce (Luisa recommends colatura,  a Sicilian version of Vietnamese fish sauce, but we only had handy what we use for Filipino dishes. If you try colatura, let me know how it turns out. I’m curious!)

Heat oven to 200 C / 400 F or so.

Wash the sprouts. Cut off the tough bottom parts, slice them in half and discard any sad-looking leaves.

Toss with a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a baking pan. Don’t drench the dear sprouts, but I’ve only realized after multiple mediocre attempts at sprout-roasting that I usually don’t oil them enough.

Roast for 15-20 minutes, checking often and stirring occasionally.

Mix in a bowl juice from 1/4 lemon or so, a bit of zest, a tablespoon of fish sauce, the garlic and a good sprinkling of hot chili flakes. Adjust according to your inclinations. Spicy-minded folks might like a full teaspoon of chili flakes. Or you might like less fish sauce.

Take the sprouts out of the oven and immediately dose with the lemon-chili-fish sauce mixture. Toss.

Serve immediately, or eat straight from the pan, if you can’t resist.