For months, ever since I first saw it at the farmer's market, this bulbous vegetable haunted me with its elusive identity, tantalizing me with the potential of its portly presence and slinky tentacles.
What is this? How do you cook it? What does it taste like? TELL MEEE.
To say I am obsessed with vegetables is an understatement. I freaking love vegetables! I want to know them all, eat them all. My veggie craze started in Spring when I set out to try a new vegetable per week with the help of my food blogging friends. (Find out what I've learned in Spring Discovery.)
I'd yet to come across a vegetable I didn't like or wouldn't try, but kohlrabi somehow eluded me. I was intimidated.
That changed when I got my hands on a copy of The Vegetable Butcher by Cara Mangini. I followed her instructions carefully on how to peel, cut, and prepare kohlrabi, and then present it in this beautiful salad done in the style of Italian carpaccio (an appetizer of raw meat or fish).
It's an impressive salad that I imagine serving at a sit-down full-course dinner party, where conversations swirl around the ingenuity of a vegan "carpaccio" and stories of mysterious vegetables are traded.
It's quite sophisticated, wouldn't you agree?
This is achieved with clear instructions and step-by-step photos organised by vegetables, making it an excellent reference for veggie enthusiasts or anyone looking for creative ways to increase their veggie intake. In addition to delicious recipes that put vegetables at the forefront of a dish, also included are quick selection and storage tips for the more than 50 vegetables featured.
In case you're wondering about the title of the book, Chef Cara Mangini is a real vegetable butcher, which is what she did at Mario Batali's famed Italian marketplace Eataly in New York City. She can now be found at her produce-inspired restaurant Little Eater in Ohio.
What does a vegetable butcher do exactly? Let's read an excerpt from her introduction in the book: "At Eataly, customers walked right up to me with their produce for purchase and I would clean it, peel it, slice it, and prime it. I shredded cabbage, shelled fava beans, shaved celery root, and prepped case after case of baby artichokes."
Well, when I grow up, I want to be...
If kohlrabi is new to you, allow me to demystify the "cabbage turnip" (apparently what kohlrabi means in German) with a few things I learned from the book.
Kohlrabi in a nutshell: Belongs to the same family as broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts, and the best seasons are from late spring to early winter (there's still time to get some!). Available in green and purple varieties, but I've only tried the purple kind.
Tastes like? Surprisingly sweet. A pleasant mild flavor with a hint of radish. Crunchy when raw and softens when cooked.
How to select and store: I got my kohlrabi from our CSA farm and they were undoubtedly fresh and cheerful. According to the book, the bulb should be heavy for its size and the leaves crisp and dark. Soft spots or yellowed leaf tips are unwanted.
To store, cut or pluck the stems and leaves from the bulbs and place them separately in the refrigerator. I wrap unwashed leaves in old newspaper followed by a plastic bag and they last about a week in the refrigerator, but they are best eaten within the first few days. I keep the bulbs in an aerated plastic bag (basically a plastic bag with holes or leave it open) in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks with no problem.
How to prepare: This is where the book comes in handy. Kohlrabi has a thick skin and a layer of fibrous flesh that has to be peeled with a knife. To do so, cut a thin slice from the top and bottom to create a flat surface on each end. Then, with the kohlrabi rested on its widest cut end, slide the knife under the skin from top to bottom following the curve of the bulb. Repeat until the tender and lightly colored flesh is reached. It can then be cut into rounds, sticks, and cubes, depending on the recipe. For really thin slices, use a mandoline.
How to use: I've tried it raw, roasted, and even thrown it into a pasta sauce. I have not been able to fully explore the use of kohlrabi leaves, but the book suggests they can be treated like turnip or collard greens although the stems are too tough to eat. If you want to fully appreciate the flavor of kohlrabi, this carpaccio is a good recipe to start with.
Glad we've tackled kohlrabi! Echoing the words of Cara, put vegetables "at the center of your plate, not an afterthought or obligation." What new vegetables are you looking forward to trying?
I often stalk vegetables and share my adventures on Instagram, so if you like this sort of thing, consider following me @vermilionroots! And if you like to see vegetables in action, subscribe to my YouTube channel for videos on Asian recipes made easy.
Adapted from The Vegetable Butcher by Cara Mangini. This is a refreshing way to enjoy the pleasant sweetness of raw kohlrabi with an impressive presentation in the style of Italian carpaccio. Serves 6.
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey (or agave syrup to make it vegan)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound (450g) kohlrabi, peeled* and very thinly sliced on a mandoline
1 large garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
10 to 12 ounces (300g) kale, stem removed and leaves sliced into ribbons
Flaked sea salt
1 Bosc pear, cored and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
MARINATE THE KOHLRABI
In a medium bowl, whisk together the lime juice, balsamic vinegar, honey, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and pepper. Slowly whisk in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil until combined. Place the kohlrabi slices in the vinaigrette and set aside to marinate.
COOK THE KALE
In a pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and cook the garlic and red pepper flakes until fragrant. Add the kale ribbons, season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and cook until the greens are just starting to wilt. Then add 1/2 cup of water, cover and cook over medium-low heat until the greens are tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover the pan and continue to cook until any remaining water evaporates. Coat the greens with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, turning with a pair of tongs.
ASSEMBLE THE CARPACCIO
Using tongs, lift the kohlrabi slices from the vinaigrette, allowing excess vinaigrette to drip off, and transfer about 6 slices to a salad plate (or enough to cover with some overlap, depending on the size of the kohlrabi). Sprinkle with flaked sea salt, top with about 1/4 cup of kale, and followed by some pear cubes and pistachios. Lightly drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette and season with flaked salt and pepper to taste.
*NOTES on peeling kohlrabi:
Cut a thin slice from the top and bottom to create a flat surface on each end. Rest the kohlrabi on its widest cut end. Slide the knife under the skin from top to bottom following the curve of the bulb. Keep doing that until you reach the tender and lightly colored flesh.