Flash in the Pan

An ode to kohlrabi


Kohlrabi is an acquired taste. It’s bland, with a mild hint of mustard-like fire, and it’s surrounded by a tough, thick peel. 

“It tastes like the part of broccoli you throw away,” Sarah Aswell wrote for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency in a piece called “Your First CSA: A Month-By-Month Guide to Enjoying Your Farm Share.”

Comparing kohlrabi to a broccoli stalk is taxonomically sound, as kohlrabi is the swollen stem of a plant in the same family as broccoli. Its name means “cabbage turnip” in German, and both cabbage and turnips are in the brassica family as well. Kohlrabi was bred over many generations to have rounder and larger stems, which enabled perhaps the one edge the vegetable has: It’s ready early in the season, so there’s no need to wait for flowers, fruit or seeds to develop.

“We grow it because it does well here, and it adds diversity to the weekly shares in late spring,” said Josh Slotnick, a community-supported agriculture farmer based in Missoula, Montana. He admitted that few of his customers fall in love with the scaly green orb at first sight but compared it to kiwifruit, which nobody cared about when it was called Chinese gooseberry. 

“Kohlrabi needs a rebranding, better marketing and a better name,” he said.

His colleague Luci Brieger, a farmer in nearby Victor, Montana, has a recipe for kohlrabi schnitzel that sells itself. Breaded and fried until golden, it’s a dish that people clamber for in the old country. She learned the recipe from a German customer.  

“It’s like chicken-fried steak,” said Brieger, who grows the giant Cossack storage variety, which can reach 10 pounds. She and her family feast on these fried slabs of breaded goodness all winter.

Meanwhile, back in Missoula, my local Thai restaurant, Sa Wad Dee, ran a special of kohlrabi som tam. Also known as green papaya salad, it’s based on a classic Laotian dish. Mixed with garlic, chili pepper, lemon and spices and drenched in fish sauce, the kohlrabi salad was as good as the green papaya version, which I could eat any amount of.

Kohlrabi som tam

Som tam means something like “pounded sourness” in Thai, a reference to both the flavor and the mortar and pestle that are traditionally used to make the sauce.

Makes four servings

  • 1 softball-sized kohlrabi, peeled and grated (about 5 cups)
  • A large handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced into quarters
  • A fistful of string beans, chopped into 1-inch lengths
  • One medium carrot, grated
  • 1 medium-sized clove of garlic,  minced
  • 2 tablespoons peanuts, dry roasted in a pan
  • 1 or more tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 or more thin-skinned chilis, like 
  • Thai or serrano, de-seeded and thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

With a mortar and pestle or a blender, convert the garlic, salt, sugar and chili peppers into a paste. Add the peanuts and crush some more. Transfer the paste to a bowl and add the lime juice and fish sauce. Stir together, then add the shredded carrot and kohlrabi. 

Lightly crush the tomatoes and string beans with the mortar and pestle or the side of a knife and add them to the bowl. Toss.

The salt will pull moisture out of the kohlrabi, which can build up in the bowl. If that’s an issue, drain it or give it a toss right before serving. Sprinkle a few more crushed peanuts on top and serve. This dish is juicy, bright and refreshing, like som tam should be.


Kohlrabi schnitzel

This kohlrabi is breaded and fried, which feels like cheating. As long as you’re getting people to chow down on kohlrabi, though, that’s a win in my book.

Makes four servings

  • 2 softball-sized kohlrabi bulbs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Vegetable oil

Peel the kohlrabi bulbs and cut them into approximately 3/8-inch slices. While you’re preparing the kohlrabi, fill a saucepan with salted water and bring it to a boil.

Cook the kohlrabi slices in the boiling water until slightly tender, about 7 to 8 minutes. Remove the slices, drain and pat dry.

Coat each kohlrabi slice with seasoned flour, then dip it in beaten egg, then dredge it in breadcrumbs. The slices should be completely coated on all sides.

Heat the oil in a pan on medium and brown the cutlets until golden on both sides. Remove the kohlrabi schnitzels from the pan and drain them to remove any excess oil.


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