The vegetables at your local greengrocer come in all manner of shapes and sizes, but even in such varied company, kohlrabi presents a distinctly strange appearance. With its bulbous base and thin fringe of leaves, it resembles a badminton “birdie” or Sputnik-era satellite. But in truth it’s a close cousin to the familiar broccoli and cabbage. Like them it has a mild, sweet flavor, which lends itself to any number of preparation methods.
If you have the good fortune to find baby kohlrabi at the farmer’s market or your local stores, these walnut-sized specimens are the sweetest and most tender. Their skin isn’t yet tough and woody, as it is on older plants, so the entire bulb is edible. Simply wash it well, and trim any soiled or uneven spots from the root end. They’re typically halved or quartered, to make a more attractive appearance on the plate, then steamed or boiled until just tender. They can also be simmered in an herbal marinade, “a la Greque,” then served at room temperature as an appetizer.
Moist Heat Methods
Like their juvenile kin, full-sized kohlrabi turn out excellently when cooked by moist-heat methods. Their tough and unpalatable skin resembles a broccoli stem, but the flesh inside is sweet and juicy. The bulbs should be peeled first, then boiled or steamed either whole or in smaller pieces. Boiled kohlrabi can be mashed or pureed, like turnips, and served slightly enriched with cream or butter as a side dish. It holds its texture beautifully in soups and stews, and diced cold kohlrabi makes a moist, texturally interesting addition to potato or pasta salads.
Dry Heat Methods
Once peeled, kohlrabi can also be prepared through dry-heat methods. It’s perfectly at home in stir-fries, where its crisp and juicy texture — similar to that of daikon radish, another cousin — provides an excellent complement to fried meats and tender rice or noodles. If your oven is already heated for other foods, bake kohlrabi bulbs in their skins until tender. The skins will peel away easily when they’re done, then the vegetable beneath can be sliced or diced for serving. Par-cooked kohlrabi can also be tossed lightly in oil and roasted, a technique that emphasizes its natural sweetness.
Garnishes and Juliennes
Although kohlrabi is quite versatile as a cooked vegetable, it’s also good uncooked. Shave paper-thin rounds from a small kohlrabi with a vegetable peeler and use them as a garnish on your favorite green salad. Julienned kohlrabi also lends a pleasant crunch and moisture, and can be incorporated into tuna salad or chicken salad as a less-assertive alternative to celery. Kohlrabi can also be shredded and dressed to make a sweet and flavorful slaw, with a milder and more appealing character than traditional coleslaw.