She takes advantage of its crunchy raw texture by slicing it very thinly with a vegetable peeler and using it as a kind of substitute for meat in a vegetarian carpaccio salad.
There’s no getting around it. Kohlrabi is a little funky looking. Knobby, bulbous, sometimes a little dirty, this lesser-known vegetable doesn’t exactly make a great first impression.
Don’t judge this plant by its cover, though. Kohlrabi is, in fact, a mild and versatile vegetable that’s incredibly nutritious, said Josh Assink, operations manager for Urban Village Farmers Market Association. Those traits have led to it becoming increasingly popular as a choice at farmers markets over the last 10 years, although not yet exactly mainstream.
“It’s the tip of the spear,” Assink said. “If you’re coming to the market and getting kohlrabi, you’re definitely still one of the cool kids. You’ll be bringing something interesting to dinner that’ll impress people.”
A cold-weather crop in season locally from November through April, kohlrabi is also known as a German turnip, although it’s not actually related to the turnip. Rather, it’s in the brassicas family — along with broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts among others vegetables — that share the same wild cabbage ancestor. Most often, shoppers will find green or purple varieties and encounter just the round, bulbous stem. But especially in farmers markets, it can be found with green leaves still attached. If that’s the case, said Assink, make sure to snag one — it’s a sign that it was picked recently and the leaves can be sautéed or steamed similar to mustard greens.
The stem itself can be used in any number of ways. Exhibiting a very mild, sweet, and occasionally slightly spicy natural flavor, it can be eaten raw, often thinly sliced, and used in salads in a similar manner as radishes. Assink said its closest comp in terms of taste and texture is to that of a broccoli stem, which serves as a useful guide for cooking. Similar to broccoli, potato, or cauliflower, it can be puréed into soups, or roughly chopped and added as a veggie filler for broth-based soups. It can also be steamed, fried, sautéed, or roasted.
When picking out kohlrabi, look for a stem that’s firm and not wrinkled with fresh cut ends that don’t look dried out. Depending on freshness, many people peel the rougher outer layer with a knife or peeler. If stored in the refrigerator crisper — either in a plastic bag, Tupperware, or in damp paper tower — it can last for months.
At A16 Rockridge, executive chef Nicolette Manescalchi was looking for a way to utilize the vibrantly purple kohlrabi that the College Avenue restaurant had sourced from Mariquita Farm in Watsonville. She decided to take advantage of its crunchy raw texture by slicing it very thinly with a vegetable peeler and using it as a kind of substitute for meat in a vegetarian carpaccio salad. The kohlrabi’s mild, slightly spicy flavor serves as an excellent base for a fairly complex salad that balances element of acid (lemon), salt (fried capers and grana padano cheese), fat (olive oil), and spice (arugula and pepper).
The dish proved so popular that Manescalchi was quickly overruled when she tried to phase it out at the Rockridge location.
“I thought it was time for a change,” she said. “But we still had regulars requesting it often. I had to put it back on the menu due to popular demand.”
Executive Chef Nicolette Manescalchi, A16 Rockridge
1/4 cup capers, preferably salt-packed
extra virgin olive oil
2 small kohlrabi, sliced very thin on a mandolin
1 fennel bulb, sliced very thin on a mandolin
1 small shallot, sliced very thin on a mandolin
4 cups wild arugula
lemon juice to taste
salt to taste
grana padano cheese (can substitute Parmesan)
fresh black pepper
Soak the capers in plenty of water, changing it out several times if necessary, to leach out salt. Taste one to know when it’s ready. Heat the olive oil in a small pot, filling about half way, until about 350 degrees. Add capers and fry until bloomed and crispy, about 1 minute. Drain on a towel and set aside.
Combine kohlrabi, fennel, shallot, arugula, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt, and toss. Taste and adjust lemon/oil or salt if needed. Plate salad and top with shaved grana padano, freshly ground pepper, and fried capers.