Kohlrabi – have you ever heard of the vegetable with this unusual name?
The round turnip-like bulbs offer a variety of uses in the kitchen. With their firm flesh and subtle taste they make not only a great side dish, but also much more.
Let’s find out more about this white and green (and sometimes purple) veggie, its characteristics, and what you can do to jazz up your menu with it!
Origin & Classification
First of all, what’s the deal with the interesting name?
Because no other countries consume as much of this vegetable as the Germans do, its local name has been adopted internationally. English, Japanese, and Russian speaking people also know it by this distinct name.
In the original German, “kohl” means cabbage, and “rabi” (a Swiss German variant of rübe) means turnip. Put them together, and what do you get? Kohlrabi, or “turnip cabbage.”
Besides Germany, where the vegetable first gained popularity, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Vietnam and the United States are all producers of this special cabbage variety. According to Matt Duckor at Epicurious, the vegetable first appeared in Italy, where drawings of it in herbal books have been found as far back as the 16th century.
The bulb (more like an enlarged tuberous stem, really) grows underground and can reach a size of up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) in diameter, however, its texture is best if harvested when it is between 2 and 4 inches around. The bulb becomes tough and woody in texture as it grows.
Its shape is a round, squat bulb, similar to a turnip. Leaves grow on top, and stems extend from the middle of the bulb like long, thin arms.
According to the University of California Berkeley Wellness blog, the vegetable contains lots of vitamins and minerals, include high amounts of vitamins C, B6, and E and potassium. It’s also a good source of glucosinolates (like other members of the cabbage family) which may improve antioxidant functions of the body.
Its flavor makes kohlrabi a perfect vegetable to combine with several types of spices and other vegetables, and it can be prepared in a variety of ways.
Choosing the Best
The best way to detect the freshness of the veggie in the grocery store or at the farmers market is to have a close look at its surface.
It should feel firm, and have smooth skin without any spots or cracks. If the leaves are still on, they should look fresh and crunchy.
It can be difficult to avoid choosing specimens with that unwanted woody flavor based on appearance alone. But in general, smaller kohlrabi tend to taste less woody than bigger ones.
How to Store Properly
There are some details you should know in order to keep kohlrabi fresh at home.
The best way to store this vegetable is to remove any leaves (and reserve them for later – they are quite tasty as well) and keep the bulb in the fridge, wrapped in a moist kitchen towel or in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer. This will keep your kohlrabi crunchy for about a week.
Once you cut it, if you do not wish to consume the whole vegetable at once, you can wrap the cut surface with plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out. If you cut the vegetable into smaller pieces, they can be stored in an airtight container or plastic bag. Consume cut kohlrabi within a few days.
Freezing is also an option, if you’d like to be able to store kohlrabi for longer periods.
Peel and cut the flesh into chunks or slices, and blanch the pieces for about three minutes in boiling water. Transfer from the boiling water to an ice water bath to stop the cooking, then strain, blot dry,and store in an airtight container before putting it into the freezer. This is especially helpful to prevent a change in texture and color when thawing and cooking again.
When it comes to the leaves, they have a much shorter shelf life. These will only stay fresh for a few days.
Wait to wash the leaves until right before you are ready to consume them, or they will rot quickly. Store in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, wrapped in paper towels if they are damp when you bring them home.
If possible, it’s a great idea to use the leaves because they contain lots of nutrients, even more than the bulbs.
The flavor of the leaves has been compared to kale or collard greens. Why not roughly chop and add them to a salad, or blanch or sauté them for a few minutes to serve as a side?
However you are going to process the bulb, always make sure to remove the stalks and any rough edges around the base first. They will taste woody with a hard texture, and therefore aren’t suited for consumption.
After that, peel the skin with a small knife or a vegetable peeler and cut into chunks, slices, or strips – whatever you prefer or that your recipe requires.
Another great advantage of this vegetable is that is can be consumed raw. Shredded or finely chopped, kohlrabi makes a great addition to raw salads and also works as a healthy snack. Its raw flavor is similar to a sweet turnip with a texture like an apple.
In general, the cooking time for a whole bulb is 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size. Chopped, the cook time decreases to 15-20 minutes. Steam the vegetable rather than boiling, to preserve the nutrients.
The test cooks over at The Kitchn also recommend roasting it, as it caramelizes in the high heat.
Kohlrabi also makes an excellent pickle, or it can be shredded and made into fritters or a raw slaw with vinagrette or mayonnaise dressing.
If you’re a fan of creative cooking, there is no better friend to have than kohlrabi. The cabbage goes well with numerous spices and herbs. In fact, I haven’t come across a flavor combination that I didn’t enjoy. It is the perfect base to test a wide variety of flavor combinations.
Some of my favorite flavor combinations include caraway, curry, nutmeg, tarragon, and thyme.
According to Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg’s bestselling book The Flavor Bible, available on Amazon, some additional herbs and spices that pair well with this veggie are:
It also pairs nicely with the pungent herb ramson, similar to North American ramps.
Try it with other vegetables too, like cabbage, carrots, celery, leeks, onions, and potatoes.
Provided that you can find a few medium-sized kohlrabi, I have three wonderful ideas for you to try out at home:
1. Fill It
Did you enjoy my recipe for stuffed onions? This recipe is just as delicious when it’s made with kohlrabi instead.
Boil the bulbs whole in vegetable or chicken stock (with stems, leaves, and any tough ends removed), then let it cool. Remove the top, and hollow it out.
Just as you did with the onions, this hollowed out portion can be added to the stuffing. The remaining directions and suggestions for the recipe stay the same.
2. Spiralize It
For a refreshing raw salad with a spicy sauce packed with flavorful ingredients like rice vinegar, ginger, soy sauce, and lots of pepper flakes, give my recipe for spicy spiralized kohlrabi slaw a try.
It’s very easy to spiralize this veggie, and you’ll love how cool and crunchy this salad is!
3. Fry It
Make some vegetarian cutlets! For this dish, cook the bulb whole until it is al dente – you don’t want it to become too soft.
Leave to cool, and then slice lengthwise into 1-inch thick pieces. Toss in beaten eggs and breadcrumbs, and fry in a pan with butter or olive oil until golden brown on both sides.
Tip: For a more crunchy texture, do not cook the kohlrabi before breading and frying it. The centers will remain crisp, with a fresh, sweet flavor.
Time to Raid the Produce Section
Kohlrabi is a versatile member of the cabbage family. It has a subtle and mild flavor, is easy to prepare, and pairs nicely with many different spices that you probably already have in your rack at home.
Plus, you can enjoy it raw in salads or as a great veggie snack dipped in hummus.
Why are so many people still unfamiliar with it? Beats me! But you can change that – head down to your local farmers market or grocer and buy a few bulbs when they’re in season.
What is your experience with this vegetable? Have you ever cooked with kohlrabi?
If so, how did you prepare it, and what additional recipes can you recommend? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!
Photo credits: Shutterstock, unless otherwise noted. Additional writing and editing contributed by Kendall Vanderslice and Allison Sidhu.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.