Meet My New Friend, The Kohlrabi

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One thing new that I planted this past fall was Early Purple Vienna kohlrabi. I had never even tasted one before, and wasn’t entirely sure what it was. But it seemed interesting in the seed catalog – exotic even – and was a cool season vegetable. So I was game.

I sowed the seeds in early August directly into a bed enriched with manure and peat moss along with the turnips and the rutabaga seeds. Because I’d never planted rutabaga before either, and because we had a lot of heavy rain that moved all the seeds around a bit, when all the seedlings first started coming up I found it really hard to differentiate between the three. It wasn’t until they started to look like this that it became obvious to me which was the kohlrabi.

When it comes time to harvest them, kohlrabi are really hard to get out of the ground. You have to cut through the stem at the base of the bulb, and it takes some effort. There’s also a lot of prep work just to get at the goods. There are all the leaves and stalks to clear away, and they have to be peeled, a task to which with their octopus-like arms present something of a challenge. Why bother?

Well, here’s my reasons:

1. They are really easy to grow. Pretty much all of the seeds I put in came up.

2. They grow really fast – 55 days from seed to table.

3. I never saw a single pest or pest egg on them; not so much as a bug bite out of the greens.

4. You can eat the bulb raw like an apple, slice it for crudité or shred them in salads like a radish.

5. You can eat the greens.

6. They are good source of vitamin C and potassium and are low in both sodium and calories.

7. They are a supposedly a good root-cellar vegetable, though I did not end up growing enough to find this out first hand. Kept in the proper conditions, cold (32-40 degrees) and moist (packed in damp sand or sawdust) they will last for a few months, though not as long as carrots and potatoes.

8. They grow in spring and in fall.

9. Kohlrabi doesn’t have a particularly distinctive flavor of its own. It’s a member of the Brassica family (Brassica oleracea gongylodes), which you can almost infer by the comparisons used to try to pin down its taste. I’ve read it described as having a mild “turnip-cabbage” taste, a “radish taste” and “a crisp turnipy texture and a sweet cucumber taste.” But when I taste it raw it tastes more like a broccoli stalk to me, but less sweet. The real beauty of the kohlrabi is that cooked it has kind of the consistency of a potato, plus they tend to absorb the flavors of whatever they’re cooked with, which makes them an excellent potato substitute in stews and soups. In fact, according to Rebecca Wood’s The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia they were “a key staple in eastern Europe until they were deposed by the potato.”

10. They’re really beautiful. You can’t beat them for adding color and character a sense of real richness to a harvest basket.

I’ve got some plans for the kohlrabi this upcoming year. I’m going to plant it in the spring and in the fall, and I want to do some serious succession planting this year to try to keep a steady supply of fresh veggies coming in the house for as long as I possibly can. I’ll plant the Early Purple Vienna seeds this spring, and I may plant a few in the fall too for fall eating, but for fall storage I’m going to take the advice of Mike and Nancy Bubel (Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables) and plant either the Grand Duke or White Vienna variety if I can find them. If not, then I’ll scan the seed catalogues for a variety that’s particularly suited for storage. I would like for the kohlrabi to help bridge the potato gap a bit … giving me a potato substitute for a month or two in the spring until I can start harvesting my banana fingerlings. We’ll see how it goes.