Brassica oleracea started as wild cabbage native to many parts of Europe. Natural (and a little careful unnatural) selection eventually shaped it into all the modern types of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts and ultimately, nature's sculptural coup -- the oddly-formed kohlrabi.
The name comes from the German Kohl ("cabbage") plus Rabi ("turnip") and is sometimes referred to in English as the German turnip. It certainly resembles it in texture -- it has a creamy and dense white flesh beneath its fibrous rind -- but where turnips can be sulphery and a little bitter, kohlrabi is sweet and bright, with a taste resembling the tender part of a broccoli stem.
Kohlrabi's home is above ground, not below with other root vegetable, forming the plump swollen stem at the base of the plant, stretching leaf stems out to resemble carefully placed antennae. When young, those stems and leaves are enjoyable too, substituting smoothly for collards and kale.
We're slowly inching towards the end of the winter cycle and are about to bid a few of the seasonal brassicas farewell. Shear Rock Farms out in Santa Paula has a vivid purple type of young kohlrabi while Yang Farm in the Central Valley had a paler green variety that's a little further along.
Size does matter with the kohlrabi. It can be eaten raw or cooked, but the ultimate application decides which kind of kohlrabi you should choose. If you're dicing or shaving into salads, or you also want the leaves for cooking, select for smaller (a couple of inches across), younger more tender bulbs.
Kohlrabi's sweetness also makes a well-balanced fermented sauerkraut. But lacto-fermentation is a harsh mistress, so opt for slightly larger bulbs. Do the same for braises. As the vegetable grows, it develops a more fibrous flesh, which makes it perfect to stand up to the punishment of a little bacterial transformation or long slow baths in heat.
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Regardless of what you do with it, you're going to have to peel it. The outer skin is tough and leathery and does not improve in texture with any kind of cooking. A paring knife is fine if you have a deft hand, and peeler works fine as well, though it will take you a little longer. No matter what the exterior color is, the center of the kohlrabi is the same: ivory in color, smelling like a sweet, crisp cabbage and firm to the touch, like jicama or turnip. Avoid overly large specimens (more than five inches across) as they will likely be tough and fibrous all the way through. If you can, purchase kohlrabi with the leaves still attached -- they show how freshly picked the vegetable is -- but even trimmed of stem, the leathery skin allows them to keep for a very long time.
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