Kohl Rabi Memories and Redux

Kohl rabi is still one of those under performing root vegetables that hasn’t yet penetrated mainstream North American food consciousness. Or not even in too many other places world-wide.  Let me know if my guess is wrong.

A giant kohl rabi from local farmers' market 2010.
A giant kohl rabi from local farmers’ market in Calgary, Alberta 2010. Perhaps it was perfect moisture and dryness that created this behomoth. Photo by J. Chong

This blog post is not going to be a rapturous paean to this pale green, bland-looking veggie.  It’s a food memory that has resurfaced after many years of benign and admittedly, grateful neglect.  Kohl rabi’s return is aided by a traditional German cooking method which Jack occasionally takes a culinary swing for a pleasing, enjoyable veggie dish at home.

As a kid and teenager, I grew up eating too much kohl rabi. It was one of the rare vegetables that could grow sturdily in my parents’  southern Ontario garden without too much tender loving, gardening care and in poor soil where the weeds and ants liked to hang out.  To cheaply feed a family of six children, my non-gardening parents made sure the entire 8 x 12-foot backyard garden was filled with sprouting kohl rabi , except for a tiny corner of green onions and water spinach.

Home pan braised kohl rabi slices with brown mushroom, herb white sauce over egg noodles.
Home pan braised kohl rabi slices with brown mushroom, herb white sauce over egg noodles. German traditional dish. 2010

So we have  memories of kohl rabi, prepared and dressed up as many ways possible that our poor frazzled mother could think of –Asian-style:  kohl rabi stir-fried and braised with slices of beef , chicken or pork with abit of soy sauce or  kohl rabi in a meat based soup stock with rice or noodles on the side.  Ok, maybe there weren’t that many dish variations after all.

When my parents gave up having any food garden, we were probably secretly glad not just to get out of weeding  in a mosquito and  bug-filled garden, but also not to have kohl rabi at the table.

Then kohl rabi returned to the dinner 20 years later, when Jack started to reminisce over the kohl rabi that his mother used to prepare. So occasionally, we do have slices of cooked kohl rabi which he, not I, prepare.  His method is gently pan-cooking it and making a white sauce with some  herbs.  It is served over broad egg noodles, which is a favourite traditional German style.  It makes a pleasant, slightly “green” and fresh tasting vegetable root dish sprinkled with fresh chopped dill.

Piles of green kohl rabi on left next to radishes. A common sight at late spring market in Germany. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Piles of green kohl rabi on left next to radishes. A common sight at late spring market in Germany. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

At this time, we tend to find kohl rabi at fall farmers’ markets, not in the grocery stores – a sign that this beloved root vegetable is still not popular for meals in many places. Recently at the Calgary farmers’ markets we saw at different times, gigantic kohl rabi.  More surprisingly, some of these globes are tasty and not tough, when you ate raw slices.  I am not certain if this was a different type of kohl rabi since I knew from the past, large kohl rabi had tough  capillaries in the root-beet, even after cooking.

Only once did I see kohl rabi as the featured food for the Iron Chefs on the Food Network show, to pounce upon and rustle up culinary creations.  But perhaps soon, we will see more often of this unassuming root, sharing equal glory along side with the more flamboyant, sweeter red beets at the table.  Like the celery root, its potential has yet to be realized.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Devon Begg says:

    Mmm interesting. I’m always looking for new vegetables to try, I wonder if the chinese supermarket in my city perhaps carries this. What exactly does it taste like??

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  2. Jean says:

    It has a light, slightly green taste. The texture is like a cooked daikon, or white radish. However, cooked daikon is abit different.

    To be on the safe side, buy medium sized kohl rabi or smaller. If you get a big one, they might be tough in taste. I’m not sure why this big one featured in photo, was not tough-tasting.

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  3. micki says:

    The Kohl Rabi looks like a cabbage to me. Thanks for sharing a new vegetable and do like to try the new taste! 🙂

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    1. Jean says:

      Cooked kohl rabi tastes closer to cooked daikon (or white radish) but tastes slightly more “green”. After all cucumber, zuchinni are 2 hard vegetables that can be cooked and taste mildly “green”.

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  4. joedav says:

    Kohl rabi isn’t a root vegetable. It’s a relative of cabbage, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts. It’s very good. The part of the plant normally eaten is actually part of the stem of the plant. Here, most supermarkets carry them but not year round.

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    1. Jean says:

      You are right that kohl rabi belongs it that green, hodge-podge category. 🙂 I only used the term “root”, for the ordinary folks, who would only see it as a vegetable growing in the ground and round, like a beet.

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  5. Frances says:

    I’m a little late getting to this post, but I wanted to add my two cents to the kohl rabi discussion here. No mention of eating it raw, which is how I first tasted it. Include it with a raw vegetable tray and dip, or grate for slaw. I suppose if the large ones get really tough they wouldn’t be suitable for eating raw.

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  6. Jean says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Frances. I forgot to mention the raw option in this posting. I had my first piece of raw kohl rabi last month. It was the right “type” of kohl rabi –greenly sweet. Surprising, since previously I always had it cooked.

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