One of the many things I’ve learned from having a micro-farm is being forced to explore my boundaries. I have a constant curiosity about things and a love of learning. I guess that’s how I went from English Major in college to advertising post college, to medical school, to holistic/integrative medicine, to farmer. This has applied to, among other things, food. While I’m not quite as adventurous as insect-organ-rodent eating Andrew Zimmern of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, I could be persuaded to, at least, try many cultural delicacies. But one does not have to venture far from the beaten path to explore the vast varieties of vegetables available either at farmer’s markets or to be grown at home. Kohlrabi is one of the vegetables I’ve been introduced to in the last 2 years that I have really come to love. Prior to this, I had never heard of or eaten Kohlrabi and was skeptical of this sci-fi looking bulb with it’s big leafy protrusions. But as I experimented with it, it has now been added to my repertoire of cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetables in addition to being a good source of fiber, potassium, calcium and vitamins C and A.
In my practice, I see a fair amount of people with different cancers in different stages and one of the things that they are most interested in when seeking unconventional therapies or ways in which they might complement their existing allopathic treatments, is what they should eat to support their bodies. One of the family of vegetables that I always stress, based on current research, are the family of cruciferous vegetables also known as brassicas. The phytochemicals most notably important are indole-3-carbinol and isothiocyanates which, on a cellular level, may lead to the arrest and death of cancer cells. Patients are always surprised to learn about the variety of brassicas available, aside from the usual broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Well, we can now add kohlrabi to the list. It’s important when modifying one’s diet to rotate foods if not for anything other than avoiding sheer boredom. When you present variety and surprise, people are less apt to revert to their usual poor eating choices.
Kohlrabi: The Basics
Kohlrabi are European in origin. The name translates to “cabbage-turnip” in German but found its way to Northern Indian in the late 17th century. But to this day, Kohlrabi is still an unknown to most people in the US. That was proven when I went to Chelsea Market -- the ultimate foodie’s shopping paradise in the trendy Meatpacking district of Manhattan and home to the Food TV Network. When I’m planning on pairing a dinner I rely on two people to turn to for exquisite pairings: my local connect Joe Printz at Grape D’Vine in Tappan NY and Chelsea Wine Vault at Chelsea Market. So I asked the staff at Chelsea Wine Vault for a pairing with my kohlrabi cakes. “What’s kohlrabi?” he asked. Puzzled, he referred me to an even more experienced pairer who pairs wine for the Food Network TV, and who also wasn’t sure what kohlrabi was. After a description of the taste of the veggie - a cross between broccoli stems and turnips, he made a pairing that was right on.
Kohlrabi is a pale green bulb (or purple) that forms from the stem just above the soil and is best eaten small (2-3” in diameter) in warm weather since it can become woody in texture if grown any larger. But cooler weather allows the stem to get larger without the change in consistency. Usually, it is grated raw for salads and coleslaw or chopped and used as a component in stir-fry dishes. The leaves, if young, can be used in the same way as kale. I like to find other ways to prepare kohlrabi and my favorite one is kohlrabi cakes with minted yogurt sauce (see below)
This easy to grow vegetable can withstand shady areas so I often tuck it in places along the fence where nothing else will flourish. Though this can be direct seeded, I like to start indoors in soil blocks 4-5 weeks before transplanting out both in the cool spring weather and again in the late summer for a fall harvest. Quick to mature (50-65 days), the varieties I’ve grown most successfully is “Kossack” and I’m experimenting with the purple variety “Kohlibri“. If grown in warmer weather, be sure to harvest when small (2-2.5” diameter). The bulb will be more forgiving in the fall when you can allow it to get as large as 4” and still retain the sweet and crunchy consistency. Bulbs can be kept in the refrigerator for several weeks but only with their leaf stems removed.
Recipe: Kohlrabi Cakes with Minted Yogurt Sauce
4 Kohlrabi bulbs (approximately 1.5 lbs)
1/2 cup chopped scallions
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbs bread crumbs
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup of oil for frying (I use grapeseed or rice bran oil)
1 1/2 cups of minted yogurt sauce
Peel (for large bulbs) and shred kohlrabi and set aside in colander to drain for 30 minutes. Squeeze out any excess moisture
Combine kohlrabi with scallions, eggs, bread crumbs, ginger and red pepper flakes, S &P. Blend well in a mixing bowl.
Heat oil in large skillet and drop mixture to preferred size until golden, 3-5 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Serve with yogurt sauce.
Minted Yogurt Sauce:
Combine 1 1/2 cups of greek yogurt with 1/4 cup chopped mint, 1 Tbs lemon juice and 1/2 tsp of salt and black pepper to taste.. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Shiela Lukins
Farmer Pam, MD