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Cool Kohlrabi

Four ways to enjoy this weird vegetable

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GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT In spite of its odd looks, kohlrabi can be delicious, if you know what to do with it.
  • GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT In spite of its odd looks, kohlrabi can be delicious, if you know what to do with it.

If you know what kohlrabi is, chances are you're German.

You could be a spelling bee champ, but that would only mean you know how to spell it, not what it is. Maybe you're a local foods enthusiast and when you first encountered kohlrabi at the farmers market, you thought it was a turnip.

This spherical veggie is the swollen stem of a plant in the mustard, aka cabbage, family (kohl means cabbage in German). Kohlrabi looks like a goiter in an otherwise healthy stalk, and has a tendency to accumulate in the refrigerators of rookie CSA members. For those who already find themselves overwhelmed with the amount of vegetables a CSA share can yield, kohlrabi can become a chronic burden. It won't rot, so you can't just throw it away. So inscrutably, intimidatingly earthy, vegetal and green, kohlrabi makes kale look like a gas-station hot dog.

A farmer friend of mine admits that few of his customers fall in love with the scaly green orb at first sight, but compares it to kiwi, which nobody cared about when it was called Chinese gooseberry. "Kohlrabi needs a rebranding, better marketing and a better name," he says. "Preferably a name that includes the word 'butter'."

Cooking with pork is my first suggestion for cooking kohlrabi. Rocket science, I know. It works with radishes too, btw.

Suggestion No. 2 comes from another farmer friend who learned, from a German customer, to bread and fry kohlrabi "like chicken-fried steak."

I compare kohlrabi to water chestnuts: crunchy, juicy, not too flavorful and good in Chinese food. This would be serving suggestion No. 3. Add them to your favorite stir-fry recipe. If you don't have one, fry some kohlrabi in oil (or bacon) with mushrooms, maybe some other vegetables, garlic and a bit of lime zest, and add a mixture of soy sauce, oyster sauce and rice vinegar. Serve with rice.

Continuing with the Asian theme, my favorite way to prepare kohlrabi is to substitute it for green papaya in the classic Laotian dish tam som, aka green papaya salad.

This, your fourth serving suggestion, is today's featured recipe—wholesome kohl som:

1 baseball-sized kohlrabi, peeled and grated or shredded (about 5 c.)

a large handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced into quarters

a fistful of string beans, chopped into inch-lengths

1 medium carrot, grated

1 medium-sized clove of garlic, minced

2 tbsp. peanuts, dry roasted in a pan

1 or more tbsp. fish sauce

2 tbsp. lime juice

1 or more thin-skinned chiles, like a Thai or serrano, de-seeded and thin-sliced (optional)

1/2 tsp. sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

In a mortar and pestle or blender, blend the garlic, salt, sugar and chile peppers into a paste. Add peanuts and crush some more. Transfer the paste to a bowl and add the lime juice and fish sauce. Stir together and add the shredded carrot and kohlrabi. Lightly crush the tomato and string beans in the mortar and pestle, or with the side of a knife, and add them to the bowl. Toss.

Sprinkle a few more crushed peanuts on top and serve. This dish is juicy, bright and refreshing, like tam som should be.

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