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.
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.
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.
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.