What's in Season

What’s in Season: Kohlrabi

From pickles to slaw, kohlrabi makes an unexpected — and extra-crisp — substitute for cabbage

Illustration: Illustrations by John Burgoyne

If you’ve joined a community-supported agriculture program this spring, you’ll likely come across kohlrabi—that “ugly thing” in the bag. The cruciferous vegetable (akin to broccoli rabe and cabbage) is knobby and spiky, with alien-like stems protruding from the bulb. But withhold judgment until you’ve tasted it, urges Harold Marmulstein, executive chef at Salty Sow in Austin, Texas. “It’s like cabbage without the heat, and with a hint of apple,” he says. “When people see it, they are intimidated, but then they realize how versatile it can be.” Marmulstein grew up in upstate New York, where kohlrabi was a common grocery-store find. In the South, the vegetable is still more of a novelty, but it’s been gaining more attention from chefs and produce managers. Look for kohlrabi throughout the spring (it prefers cooler weather), and avoid any bunches that aren’t firm or that have brown spots. It’s always best to buy bulbs with greens attached, assuming the leaves look perky (a good indicator of freshness), says Marmulstein, who gets his kohlrabi from a farmer a few miles from the restaurant. Whether you pick a purple or a green bunch—taste-wise, they’re interchangeable—peel the bulb’s tough outer skin with a paring knife, remove the inner membrane, then slice the flesh thin (a mandoline helps) and eat it raw in a salad. Or work it into an Asian-inspired dish, such as a stir-fry (you can wilt the edible, collard-like leaves into the mix). “It’s perfect for slaw because it keeps such a good crunch,” Marmulstein says. Give it a try and you just might deem gnarly kohlrabi a thing of beauty.

Kohlrabi Three Ways

Braise it in Wine
gg0216_whatsinseason_02“Kohlrabi has a nice, meaty texture that complements cabbage really well.”

In a large pot, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium. Add ½ cup sliced onion, ½ tsp. caraway seeds, one bay leaf, and 1 tsp. chopped thyme. Sweat for 5 minutes. Add 2 cups kohlrabi (peeled and cut into ¼-inch slices), 2 cups shredded green cabbage, and ¼ cup shredded carrots. Sweat 5 more minutes. Add 2 cups white wine and ½ cup chicken stock, and lower heat to simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour. Stir in 2 tbsp. butter and season with salt and pepper.

Quick-Pickle Itgg0216_whatsinseason_03

“Kohlrabi holds a crunchy texture, as opposed to something like a cucumber, which is softer. The pickles are delicious with a pâté or charcuterie.”

In a medium saucepan, bring to a boil 1 cup water, 1 cup apple cider vinegar, and 1 cup sugar (add a pinch of red pepper flakes if you like heat). Peel and cut kohlrabi into 1-by-3-inch chunks—you should have about 1 cup—then place it into a 12- or 16-oz. mason jar or other heat-resistant glass storage container. Pour vinegar mixture over top. Cool to room temperature, then seal and store in refrigerator for up to two months.

Toss it into a Slaw
gg0216_whatsinseason_04“This goes well with most any sandwich, but I especially enjoy it with cornmeal-fried oysters or pickled shrimp.”

In a large bowl, combine 2 cups julienned kohlrabi, ¼ cup minced onion, ¼ cup julienned carrots, and ¼ cup chopped cilantro. In a separate bowl, whisk together ½ cup mayonnaise and 1 to 3 oz. apple cider vinegar. Add mayo mixture to vegetables and stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Best if stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours before serving. Drain liquid, if necessary.