Spotlight on Kohlrabi

November 20, 2012 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

What’s going to be on your Thanksgiving table this year? Oyster stuffing, cranberry sauce (savory or sweet), a delicious turkey with crispy skin? What about a purple bulb with a funny name that looks like an alien turnip from another planet?

Kohlrabi growing in the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History.

Though it looks strange, kohlrabi is a delicious root vegetable in the cabbage family (Brassica oleracea), which also includes kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Alluding to the fact that the vegetable resembles a turnip more than a cabbage, the German name is a combination of kohl (cabbage) and rübe (turnip). The entire plant is edible but the bulb is most often used for cooking. Skin color ranges from white to green to vibrant purple, and all of the variants are pale on the inside. At the grocery store look for bulbs (preferably still with the delicious leaves) that are no more than 3” in diameter. Larger bulbs tend to be too woody and tough to eat. Low in calories and high in fiber, kohlrabi is a healthy addition to any meal.

In 1909, one W.J.H. Moses bemoaned the lack of familiarity with kohlrabi in the gardening world in the pages of The Country Gentleman. Kohlrabi, he wrote, “can be prepared for the table with the least trouble, has a flavor every bit as good as the best Brussels Sprouts, and if not the easiest raised of all cabbages it is as easy as any . . . and yet with all these advantages kohlrabi is as little known to the general palate as olives were a few decades ago.” Lucky for us kohlrabi, though not the most common vegetable, has become increasingly easier to find in grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

Early twentieth-century cookbooks suggest boiling kohlrabi and serving it au gratin or with a heavy béchamel sauce. We, however, prefer to take a lighter approach. The spicy-sweet, fresh flavor of kohlrabi lends itself to  shredding or julienning raw for salads, but for Thanksgiving we love to serve it roasted with onions and other root vegetables with a dash of olive oil and salt and pepper. Another idea is to swap out half of the potatoes with kohlrabi in your favorite mashed potatoes recipe for a sweeter, lighter take on a holiday favorite. Don’t discard the greens! They can be sautéed on their own or with other greens such as mustard and kale for another healthy side dish.

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

Entry filed under: Horticulture. Tags: , .

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