Monday, 23 November 2009


Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall refers to it as a 'vegetable sputnik', the Oxford companion to food calls it 'a bizarre form of a common cabbage' , I thought it looked like a head of an alien, with various antennas coming out of its head. Had it not been for the fact that I had accidentally tasted these translucent, pale-green slices before actually realising what it was, I probably would never have acquired enough curiosity to try it in my local 'Turkit'. But I’m glad I did!

Kohlrabi's name (Kol'rabi in Russian) comes from Kohl - cabbage in German, and Rabi - Turnip in Swiss German I think, and this is exactly what this vegetable is. It has the texture of a large-ish radish and a taste of a mild cabbage, or, as some say, a broccoli stem, although I find the latter description rather repellent. This sturdy and hardy brassica grows easily in both scarf-requiring temperatures of England, and hot and humid weathers of India (kohlrabi, or Monj, is apparently particularly popular there).

As i said, I had encountered the vegetable by chance, whilst sampling a Cypriot fair in the local community cafe in Green Lanes – after some five hours of mezes, invigorating mix of sirtaki, 80's faves and our own Russian folk singing, and a plate of cool, delicately-tasting, melon-looking slices, went down a treat as a palate-cleanser. The chef didn't know the name of this strangely refreshing vegetable in English, but we quickly gathered it was related to a turnip. It was the following day that i spotted this spherical creature in a box in my local.

What do you do with Kohlrabi?

Well, loads - it is so easy to peel and slice and it has such a delicate and non-obtrusive flavour, that you could put it in pretty much anything that required some crunch, body or lightness of taste. Kohlrabi can be eaten both row (a vitamin-packed salad, grated with carrots and apple) and cooked (with lots of butter and pepper), sliced, cubed, gratin-ed and boiled. But this is what I made with it:

Fennel and kohlrabi salad

1 fennel, with tips if available
1 kohlrabi


3tbsp good peppery olive oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp capers, chopped
pepper cracked

you will also need some ice for this

Slice both vegetables as thinly as you can. Put ice in a bowl, cover with cold water and immerse the vegetables in this icy water for 15-30 minutes - this will make them very crunchy. In the meantime, mix all the dressing ingredients, including chopped fennel leaves.

Get rid of the water and mix the sliced vegetable with the dressing thoroughly. I find it's better to then leave the salad for 10 mins or so, to let the flavours infuse. Oh, anchovies and cornishons will like this aneesed-y combo too.

I served the salad with some hot cauliflower curry with brown rice, but it will go wonderfully with some baked fish drenched in lemon and more fennel leaves or steamed chicken with fluffy mashed potatoes. I also quite like this posh way of using up the humble cabbagy-turnip - Kohlrabi carpaccio as in this summer's Hugh recipe.

I'm also thinking the slices of Kohlrabi, chilled and crunchy could be an inspiring addition (pardon my modesty) to a Cucumber cocktail to start off the Roman over-indulgence of this year’s Christmas dinner:

Christmas Kohlrabi cocktail (modified from YumSugar)

6 limes, rinsed
1 cup packed mint leaves, no stems, plus 6 sprigs for garnish
about 2-3 peeled kohlrabi
120 gr sugar
450 gr vodka or gin

Sparkling wine

Measures are approximate, so why not have a trial session first?

  1. Thinly slice 3 limes and place in a pitcher. Juice the rest and add juice to pitcher. Add mint leaves. Slice the kohlrabi (but ratain a few slices for garnish) and add, then add sugar. Muddle ingredients. Add vodka or gin. Place in refrigerator to steep 30 minutes or longer.
  2. Garnish.
  3. Fill cocktail shaker with ice and top with mixture. Shake and strain into a martini glass. Top with a splash of sparkling wine, garnish each glass with a cucumber round, and serve.

Go on, have another mince pie.


Alex said...

shame I couldn't join you at the Cypriotic place, but will definitely bear cohlrabi in mind next time I want something healthy. Have you ever seen black turnips here? Apparently they are very popular (and effective) in Russia for curing coughs. (chernaya red'ka)

Katrina said...

i can't remember seeing black turnip in Green lanes, but I have seen it in the UK - never tried though.

in Russia anything is good for curing colds, the sourer, the more alchohol it has, the better!

catty said...

Hi Katrina! It was nice to meet you at the FBC09 yesterday :) your blog's pretty great - don't feel pressured to post more often than you need to :)