All About Kohlrabi – How To Cook It, What To Use If You Can’t Get It

“We have a preference, in this region of France, for the Early White Vienna and the Early Purple Vienna kohlrabi varieties.”

Richard C Morais, The Hundred Foot Journey

There have been quite a few recipes for kohlrabi in the press recently – prescient of the awakening of spring.

But it’s not always that easy to find in non-German speaking countries, or outside Kashmir where they eat a lot of it. So what is it and what constitutes a reasonable substitute if you can’t find it?

The name of this vegetable, kohlrabi is derived from two German-rooted [sic] words – Köhl which means cabbage as in Chancellor Köhl (can you imagine a Prime Minister Cabbage in the UK?… lovely thought…); and Rabi which means turnip in the Swiss German (in Swiss French it’s almost the same – ravi). The rabi bit arises because the swollen stem of the kohlrabi looks a bit like a turnip…and also possibly because it has a sharp mustardy taste a bit like a summer baby turnip. It has a grainy texture, a bit like the stem of broccoli.

You can use both the stem and the root in cooking. Young kohlrabi are crisp and juicy – fleshier, sweeter and milder than the heart of a cabbage, but still retaining a sharpness. The scientific name for kohlrabi is brassica oleracea.

What can you substitute for kohlrabi if you can’t find it?

In terms of substitutes you can use spring greens, kale or cavolo nero instead of the leaves. For the swollen stem you could use turnips, radishes, the stems of broccoli (not surprising as the kolhrabi is itself a stem), or possibly some celeriac with a little added mustard.

How to use kohlrabi

You can use kohlrabi in both cold and hot dishes. Buy more than it looks as if you need. You will have to peel off both layers of skin and what you have left at the end of this process is a lot smaller than what you started with.

  • It marries well with potato in all kinds of potato dishes, especially dauphinois.
  • It’s good, for example, sliced and lightly salted, in salads.
  • Add it to a chicken and potato soup
  • Include it in a stir fry with chicken and other spring vegetables
  • Make a kohlrabi and potato purée and serve it with a fried escalope of veal
  • Add it to slaw. Particularly good combined with loquats
  • or slice finely and make a salad with beetroot, apple, hazelnuts and radishes
  • Put it in a vegetable lasagne with ricotta and gruyère…
  • Make chips of it: cut into chip-size shapes, toss with some semolina seasoned with smoked salt and Indonesian long black pepper. Dry fry a little cumin seed. Remove to a pestle and mortar and crush, add a bit more salt. In the same wok, deep fry in very hot vegetable oil (rapeseed is good).. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with the salt-cumin mix. You can substitute the cumin with sweet, smoked paprika
  • Cook, peeled and sliced, in chicken or vegetable stock for about fifteen minutes. Use the cooking water to make a white sauce. Season generously and mix in the drained kohlrabi. Good with a Wiener Schnitzel.
  • Makes a brilliant rémoulade, cut into thin matchsticks and mixed with parsley, yoghurt, mustard and sea salt. Pair with ham or smoked mackerel.
  • As served at The Kitchen Table in London, kohlrabi served with shrimp and sweet lemongrass from the chef’s mother-in-law’s garden, salt crystals and basil-infused buttermilk.
  • make a salad of it with celeriac: for four people take a small celeriac, two lemons, two kohlrabi, some parsley and some dill. Fill a mixing bowl with cold water and the juice of one of the lemons (this will stop the vegetables from turning brown). Peel and slice the celeriac and the kohlrabi and cut into thin matchsticks (ideally by using a mandolin). Add to the water. Drain. Return to the bowl. Add the juice and zest of the other lemon, two tbsps olive oil, snip over some parsley and dill, and season. Serve with Dover sole and shrimp butter.
  • or grate a couple of kohlrabi and marinate in a tablespoon each of saffron vinegar and walnut oil, half a tablespoon of soft brown sugar and some salt and pepper. Add some finely shredded kohlrabi leaves.
  • Ottolenghi uses his to make a slaw with horseradish and candied sunflower seeds
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