With a peculiar shape and a name to match, kohlrabi is one of the least familiar vegetables in the western world, defying classification since the 16th century. Nevertheless, its surprising taste (reminiscent of both cucumber and broccoli), crisp texture (similar to jicama), and many uses have transformed kohlrabi into a “best-kept secret” among farmers and cooks.

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History

Aptly named with a portmanteau of the German words for “cabbage” and “turnip,” kohlrabi has long created confusion over its nature and use. Throughout time, it has been classified as everything from a root vegetable to a type of spinach. Descended from the northern European marrow cabbage, kohlrabi was not officially identified until 1554, when a botanist documented its recent entry into Italy. By the end of that century, kohlrabi was being grown from the English coast to the eastern Mediterranean. The first record of kohlrabi in the Americas comes from an 1806 farmer’s log, but it has yet to achieve the same popularity in the United States that it holds in England, India, and Eastern Europe.

Nutrition

Kohlrabi is rich in vitamin C and contains high amounts of potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and folate.

Storage

Cut leaves away from the kohlrabi bulb, wrap the bulb in a damp paper towel, and store them in an unsealed container for several weeks.

Preparation

With its crisp, juicy texture and unassertive sweetness, kohlrabi can be sliced and eaten raw as a crudité, or used as a base for salads and slaw. The firm, starchy root can be puréed or cut into chunks and added to soups. Kohlrabi adds a subtle complexity when combined with other vegetables and roasted, mashed, made into savory fritters, or fried into chips.

Cooking

Peel kohlrabi bulb and cut into uniformly sized chunks. Toss in a mixture of olive oil and salt, then add a single layer to a baking sheet. Roast at 450 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. When finished roasting, transfer kohlrabi to a large frying pan. Add butter, cider vinegar, maple syrup, and chopped fresh thyme to kohlrabi, and sprinkle with two handfuls of chopped hazelnuts. Cook over low heat until liquid begins to thicken and nuts are golden brown. Serve warm.

Pro Tips

The flavor of kohlrabi can be anywhere on a spectrum from herbaceously sweet to slightly bitter. The color of the bulb skin is the best way to tell how your kohlrabi will taste—darker purple or green indicates more sweetness, while a pale color is likely on the bitter side.

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