Cooking Up Something New: Kohlrabi

  • Vegetable from Mars? Nope, it's just kohlrabi. Photo: H.Zell

Thanks to North Country Public Radio for this story, originally produced for their network. 

Food is on many a mind as the holidays get underway. Of course, there will be potatoes and green beans for the big meals. But what about something different? Recently, I gave kohlrabi a shot.

You may have seen it at the farmers market: a fist-sized, pale green bulb with large leafy greens shooting up from it. It looks like the bulb might grow underground, but no; there’s a root growing from the bottom of it. The bulb must sit on top the ground. 

"It was more common years ago, not a lot of people know what it is," farmer Brian Bennett says about kohlrabi. "My kids call it the alien because of the way it looks."

He says his mother and grandmother used to grow a lot of kohlrabi and they would let it grow huge, and tough, "and then they’d peel it and cut it up, just like you would potatoes, and boil the life out of it, and feed it to us like boiled cabbage. It’s in same family as cabbage."

Bennett says, these days, most of his customers at the farm market don’t want big tough kohlrabi; they prefer tender, small bulbs. He weighs a couple. At a dollar a pound, it’s not going to cost me much to try this little experiment. I get home and google "kohlrabi." Cooking websites suggest roasting the bulb, and sautéing the greens with olive oil and garlic. Sounds pretty good.

I head up to the State University of New York at Potsdam, to meet with Chef Steven Maiocco in the kitchen behind the Dexter Cafe for more ideas. He’s a big guy in comfy pants and crocs. And he’s made a big effort in recent years to use local produce in the food served at the college. I put the kohlrabi on the countertop and ask, "So what do you think when you look at this?"

He says kohlrabi can be used for lots of things. "We generally use it here raw. It's a little alien looking, but it has a great flavor. It’s kind of mix between turnip and broccoli. It goes well with lots of things."

The first thing he does is cut the leaves off, and remind me that "you can sauté these as you would kale, or any dark green."

Maiocco likes to mix some kohlrabi in with his mashed potatoes for flavor. Today, he’s going to make a raw salad with it. He trims off the leaves. He peels the skin off the bulb, and it does look like a turnip. Then he cuts it into little matchsticks.

"Now in this state, too, you could sauté it in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, it’s a good, hot side dish for any meal," said Maiocco. "We’re going to use it raw today."

Maiocco pulls out a bowl from the fridge. Earlier, he shaved fennel to mix for the salad. Fennell stalks look kind of like celery, but chopped thinly like this they have good crunch, and a faint licorice taste.

Maiocco says "We’re just going to mix up some fennel, green onion, lemon vinegarette. Great alternative to a green salad, it’s good with fish, a burger, or by itself."

He mixes up the kohlrabi and fennel with the green onion, and dresses it lightly with a vinaigrette.

Maiocco says there are so many good reasons he and the Potsdam college started buying local produce. It keeps money in the local economy. It means fewer fruits and vegetables don’t have to be shipped across the country. But mostly, he says, it just tastes better. Maiocco encourages everyone to give it a try and says, "If you’re going to buy tomatoes, buy at farm market. You don’t have to buy kohlrabi…You can’t go wrong buying local."