What Is Kohlrabi?


What Is Kohlrabi?

What Is Kohlrabi? If you’ve never eaten kohlrabi before, you’re definitely not alone. But with its health benefits and unique flavour, you should give it a try. Whether it’s in pastas, soups or salads, this vegetable makes a great addition to the dinner table.

What Is Kohlrabi?

When is a turnip not actually a turnip? When it is kohlrabi. Similar in shape and leaf structure, the kohlrabi is a cousin of the turnip and the cabbage – from the same brassica family. Although it is often considered a root vegetable, it in fact grows above the ground – its rounded end is more of a swelling of the stalk than a hairy root.



The name ‘kohlrabi’ comes from the German terms ‘kohl’ for kale and ‘rabi’ meaning ‘above ground’. Kohlrabi is popular in eastern European countries and in temperate zones of the Middle East – like Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. In fact, kohlrabi is the vegetable of choice for the Kashmir people of India, with popular dishes including ganth gobi and monj haak.



Kohlrabi has no fat (which means no cholesterol) and a useful amount of necessary dietary fibre. Kohlrabi is high in potassium, which is correlated to the old-fashioned belief that it is an excellent blood cleanser, valuable for gums, teeth, bone development and healthy nails. There are also high levels of immune-boosting vitamin C in the leaves and stalks, and the tasty vegie is rich in trace elements such as copper, manganese, iron and calcium.



Look for a fresh stem that’s not too big and not too small – about the size of a tennis ball. Any larger ones will be fibrous and tend to be dry. The skin is either purple or green, and should be shiny, not punctured or wrinkled. The whole vegetable should be heavy for its size, indicating it is still well hydrated. Usually a kohlrabi is bought with the stems and leaves removed, although when fresh these can also be used in cooking or raw in salads.



Kohlrabies are best when they’re still small – harvested at about 5-6cm in diameter, no bigger than the size of your fist. There are purple and green varieties, with very little difference in flavour between the two. Kohlrabi has the pepperiness of turnips and radishes, with the musty flavour of a cabbage.

Kohlrabi is prepared and cooked in a similar fashion to white turnips. Don’t peel, as this reduces the flavour. Simply slice and cook or steam for 20 minutes in stock, until just tender. The flesh can also be microwaved, braised, baked or roasted. The leaves are best used raw, but they can be steamed and eaten like you would curly kale, or shredded and included in fritters. The mild flavour of kohlrabi lends itself to mild accompaniments, such
as root vegetables and dairy foods. Alternatively, you can give it a boost of extra flavour with aromatic spices and seasonings.



In good soil, kohlrabi will grow well in just about any area, but especially in more temperate zones. Plant it in spring and autumn, to have a crop for summer and winter. It can handle a sharp frost, but not the hot summer temperatures – therefore it is more commonly grown as a winter vegetable. The plant grows relatively quickly for a brassica – but make sure you keep hungry insects away, as they’ll soon demolish the developing swollen stem.



Kohlrabies will keep well for 7-10 days if stored in a cool place. There is no need to wrap them in plastic, as the stems have a slightly waxy skin to protect them from dehydration. Keep them away from direct sunlight. The flesh can be frozen, but it must be used immediately after thawing.



The bulbous stem and the leaves can all be eaten. The leaves can be finely sliced and then included in salads and smoothies, or anywhere that cabbage or kale is used. The swollen stem can be cooked in many ways, but if left to get too big it can become unpalatable. Rather than turfing into the compost bin or feeding to pigs, slice and freeze kohlrabi and then use in a stockpot for a hearty winter soup.


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