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Odd-looking veggie shouldn't be missed

Kohlrabi crunches like a radish and tastes like a broccoli stem only sweeter and more refreshing
Published 4:28 pm, Wednesday, March 5, 2014
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What's the most underrated, undervalued vegetable? Food writers have spoken about fennel and rutabaga, Swiss chard and turnip.

But the real answer is kohlrabi. Chances are you've passed it by many times and never noticed it. Or, if you did, you might have wondered what that weird looking thing was, but didn't ask. Kohlrabi is so unappreciated that more than a few produce department managers have never even heard of it.

Too bad. This vegetable is special. It's one of those cabbage family cousins that's good for you as well as being versatile, easy to cook and most of all, tasty.

Yes, it looks a bit strange with its bulbous green (sometimes purple) bottom and leafy-topped stalks sticking up like the antennae of a creature from outer space. But bite into that rounded part -- yes, you can eat it raw -- and you'll understand kohlrabi a bit better. It crunches like a radish and tastes very much like a broccoli stem, only sweeter, gentler and more refreshing. The purple varieties are even milder than the green ones. The leaves are edible, too. They have a grassy flavor, robust but not as dominant as other greens.

Kohlrabi looks like a root vegetable, but the bulb is actually a swollen stem that grows above ground. To get it ready for eating, you'll have to remove the leaves, discarding their long, thin stalks. Wash the leaves and cook them the way you would prepare kale or spinach.

The bulbous portion needs peeling, first of the thick outer layer, which you can strip off using a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Underneath that there may be a fibrous layer, which you should discard as well. The inner flesh is pale, almost white with a hint of green.

Raw kohlrabi makes a nice addition to a crudite platter because it is so crispy and the mild flavor is a good foil for dips; cut the bulb into "sticks." Or slice the bulb and add the pieces to a salad or stuff them into tea sandwiches instead of cucumber. Diced kohlrabi can be used for a chopped salad; grated kohlrabi is a natural for cole slaw (the kohl and cole derive from the same German word for cabbage).

Keep cooked kohlrabi simple with a quick saute or stir-fry. You also can steam or poach the pieces. In all cases, it only takes a few minutes to tenderness. Serve the vegetable plain, sprinkled with a squeeze of lemon juice. It's easy to jazz it up though: add garlic, chili pepper or a small amount of chopped fresh herbs to the pan. Or cloak cooked kohlrabi with cheese sauce. Another suggestion: Quarter the bulb (without peeling), rub olive oil on the surface, sprinkle with salt and roast the vegetable as you would potatoes.

Pureed kohlrabi is an absolute delight, especially as a base for soup or when mixed with mashed potatoes (making this dish much lighter and less caloric). Kohlrabi strips make delicious fries, too, but you must dust them with flour first to assure that they'll be crunchy. Forget about oven fries. You must cook the strips in hot oil because kohlrabi is so moist that even with roasting at high temperatures the pieces come out limp, and the surface never gets properly crispy.

The best kohlrabis are the small bulbs, up to 2 1/2 inches in diameter, with moist, fresh, unwithered greens. Larger than that and the bulb portion may be woody. Keep kohlrabi in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, where it will stay fresh for up to two weeks.

Kohlrabi Slaw

Makes 4 servings

1 bunch kohlrabi (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and julienned

2 stalks celery, julienned

1 large tart apple, peeled and julienned

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 medium chili pepper, such as serrano, deseeded and chopped, optional

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the kohlrabi, celery and apple in a bowl. Add the red onion, parsley and chili pepper and toss ingredients to distribute them equally. In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, vinegar and mustard. Pour over the vegetables and toss. Let rest for at least 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Kohlrabi Soup

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium onion, chopped

2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes

1 1/2 pounds kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and chopped

4 cups vegetable stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup half-and-half

Freshly grated nutmeg

Chopped parsley or kohlrabi leaves for garnish, optional

Heat the vegetable oil and butter in a soup pot over medium heat. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, add the onions, potatoes and kohlrabi and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes. Add the stock and some salt and pepper to taste. Bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 30 to 35 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. Puree the soup in a blender (or use an immersion blender) until smooth. Strain the soup if desired. Return the soup to the pan. Stir in the cream and heat through. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste and freshly ground nutmeg. Garnish with parsley or kohlrabi leaves, if desired.

Kohlrabi, Parsnip and Potato Puree

Makes 8 servings

2 pounds all-purpose or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into small chunks

1 1/2 pounds kohlrabi bulbs, peeled, cut into small chunks

1 1/2 pounds parsnips, peeled and cut into small chunks

1 large tart apple, peeled, cored, cut into small chunks

2-3 tablespoons butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

6-8 tablespoons milk, optional

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Place the potatoes in a large pot of lightly salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the parsnips and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, then add the kohlrabi. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes. Add the apple and cook for 5 to 6 minutes or until all the vegetables and apple pieces are tender. Drain the ingredients and place them in a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Mash the ingredients or place them in a ricer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the remaining butter, if desired for richness, and milk, if desired to make the puree softer. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author and cooking teacher in Stamford. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com and follow on Twitter @RonnieVFein