I remember clearly the first time my mother introduced Kohlrabi to my brother, sister and me. She stood in the kitchen holding a strange, alien form from our garden. It was not purple then, as it often is now, but a pale greeny white, as though it might taste minty or sweet like a honeydew melon.
She peeled it, cut it into cubes and then served it up with toothpicks. "It's delicious!" she announced, slurping her lips to let us know of her love for the thing.
But it was not delicious. Nor was it minty, or sweet. Maybe a little bit refreshing, in a watery sort of way, with a strong whiff of broccoli. Finding it all around objectionable, the three of us squealed in horror and ran out into the yard, never to touch kohlrabi again.
So imagine my surprise when a modern, giant, version arrived in our CSA box. Not sure what to do, I consulted my cookbooks. Nigel Slater seems to have avoided this vegetable altogether, Alice Waters doesn't include it in her latest book. There is nothing in any Canal House and all The Joy of Cooking recommends is kohlrabi with parmesan. Not terribly appetizing, but at least I learned that that it can be cooked. Eventually, Stephanie Alexander emerged as the Queen of Kohlrabi. She is Australia's Kitchen Garden Master, with multiple pages of kohlrabi recipes in her book Kitchen Garden Companion, plus a paragraph on how to select a good one. "It is best picked at about the size of a small apple," she says.
Closer to the size of a football, ours served us well through three meals. We ate roasted root vegetables with lentils from Eat Good Food, Kashmiri-style slow cooked kohlrabi leaves from Kitchen Garden Companion, and my personal favorite, Kohrabi and chickpea soup. The best part about kohlrabi? I told my kids it was potato, and they believed me. Maybe next time one arrives with the produce I'll get out some toothpicks and reveal my duplicity.
Kohlrabi and Chickpea Stew: (adapted from Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion)
1 t cumin seeds (or ground, to speed things up)
1/2 t chili flakes
1/2 t ground turmeric
2 T olive oil
1/2 lb kohlrabi, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 lb tomatoes (green ones work fine)
T tomato paste
4c water (or so, whatever looks right to you)
1 t salt (or more to taste)
1/2 small handful chopped coriander (aka cilantro) or flat leaf parsley
If you have five spare minutes, dry roast the cumin and coriander seeds in a small skillet until they are fragrant, watching carefully because they burn quickly. Then grind them with a clean coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. They are more flavorful this way than pre-ground, but you can use pre-ground spices if you are in a hurry. Either way, mix the chili and turmeric with the cumin and coriander.
Heat the olive oil in a medium pan until it shimmers, then fry the spice mixture for one minute. Add the kohlrabi and sauté for a couple minutes more, then add all remaining ingredients except the coriander or parsley leaves. Bring to a simmer, then continue to simmer for another 15 minutes, or until the kohlrabi is as tender as you like it.
Taste and add salt if needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish with parsley or coriander.