Cooking Chapbook

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

Tag: fish sauce

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.

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.

My FIrst Sinigang Soup

When I’m cooking a dish for the first time, I like to read through dozens of recipes. Each one is a little different, but slowly the crux of it emerges. The archetype, Plato might say.

For a national dish like Sinigang, a sour soup from the Philippines, the quintessential version is under constant and gentle dispute. I love reading the recipe comments feuding over ingredients, but always, because this is a Filipino dish, kindly and politely. Something akin to: “Authentic Sinigang would never have potatoes, but your recipe looks nice, too.”

So I read recipe after recipe after recipe. And then I took a look in the fridge, the ultimate arbitrator.

Sinigang Soup

I first had Sinigang this summer, while in the Philippines. My husband loves it. The taste is a little too sour, too pungent for me to sip without wincing a little. I felt like a little girl tasting blue cheese for the first time and trying to act all grown up. Yes, really! I do love it!

I hope, as with blue cheese, I’ll grow into it.

Tamarind is often the key souring agent for Sinigang, but when I spied a box of Sinigang soup packets in the Philippines, I couldn’t resist. It came back on the plane with me.

Here’s my first go at Sinigang, a warm, comforting, savory blanket of vegetables and sea on a chilly day. You can use pork or fish, instead. Daikon radish, bok choy, okra, spinach, and ginger could all be added. I used what we had around.

My beginner version is much less sour than what you’d have in the Philippines, but with the sourness dialed back a bit, I really did love it.

Brianne’s First Sinigang

  • 2 packets Sinigang soup mix (for this particular box, 1 packet = 4 cups)
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups of thin green beans (or “snake beans” or whatever variation you like)
  • 1-2 cups frozen shrimp, peeled and already cooked
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves, sliced or minced
  • canola oil
  • 1 small Asian eggplant or half of a big U.S. one, sliced and cut into semi-circles

Drizzle the canola oil into a skillet on medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and tomatoes. Let it cook for a few minutes until the garlic and onions soften. Stir occasionally so the garlic doesn’t burn.

Meanwhile, heat the 6 cups of water in a pot. Add in the green beans and eggplant slices. Bring the water to a simmer.

Once the garlic/onion/tomato mixture has softened a bit, add it to the pot.

Add one soup packet; stir till dissolved and taste. Add the second soup packet, or part of it, if you like more flavor and sourness. You can also add fish sauce for a more pronounced savoriness.

Let the soup simmer 10-15 minutes or so, until the beans and eggplant are tender to your liking.

The shrimp can be added toward the end. If they are already cooked, they will only take a minute or two to thaw.

Serve with rice.