Kohlrabi can be an intimidating vegetable if you haven’t been around it much. It looks like a leafy, green space alien, and has a taste like fresh, crunchy broccoli stems, with a hint of radish. The name kohlrabi comes from the German words kohl, meaning cabbage, and rabi, meaning turnip—and that kind of says it all about this delicious vegetable.
Although these green bulbs look like they were dug up from the earth, kohlrabi is actually a swollen stem that grows above ground. Kohlrabi—or “rabi” for the hip, urban foodie set—is widely used in Central Europe and Asia, but I think the time has finally come for this yummy little Sputnik to land in the United States!
Culture and Cultivation
The kohlrabi plant is easy to grow, has few pests or disease problems, and grows pretty quickly in cool weather. It makes an excellent, relatively care-free substitute for turnips. There are a few different varieties of kohlrabi, and they come in pale green and bright purple, making quite a show in the garden.
When growing from seeds, sow outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. If you are in a warmer climate, you may want to start your seedlings indoors, and transplant them out a couple of weeks before the last spring frost. If you start them inside, wait until the baby plants are four to six weeks old before transplanting.
Kohlrabi prefers cool weather, and will lose flavor quickly in the heat, so often people will sow kohlrabi into the garden in the fall, four to six weeks before the first frost, so their plants will mature and sweeten in the cold. Kohlrabi are often the longest lasting vegetable in the garden in the fall, doing very well in cold frames, and even tolerating a nip of snow!
First fertilize your soil, and then plant your kohlrabi into full sun. You can have a continuous crop if you sow new kohlrabi seeds into the garden every two to three weeks. Plant the seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep into the soil, about three to five inches apart, then thin to six to eight inches apart as they grow. Also, when growing kohlrabi, you want to keep the soil well watered or you will end up with woody plants that are too tough.
Harvest kohlrabi when the first stem is 1-2 inches in diameter. This takes between 40 and 60 days, depending on the variety of kohlrabi you are growing. Kohlrabi can be continuously harvested until the stems are two to three inches in diameter. After that, your plants will be too old and too tough.
Kohlrabi is a powerhouse of Vitamin C, but only if you eat it raw. A single cup of raw kohlrabi has almost 84 mg of vitamin C, which is more than enough to meet your daily requirement. Kohlrabi also has a good amount beta-carotene, vitamin B6, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid and folate.
Kohlrabi is a powerhouse of minerals, too. A cup of raw kohlrabi contains 14% of the Required Daily Allowance (RDA) for potassium and 9% of the RDA for copper and manganese. Kohlrabi also has small amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, iron and selenium.
Selection and Storage
Kohlrabi is at its best during winter months from November until March. Choose smaller kohlrabi, which are the sweetest and most tender. The purple variety is sweeter than the green. Bulbs bigger than the size of a tennis ball won’t be very tasty and often have tough, fibrous flesh.
If the leaves are attached, make sure they are firm and green. When you get home, trim the leaves off and store them separately. They will need to be eaten within a day or two. The bulbs should be stored, unwashed, in a bag. Small kohlrabi will hold for about a week in the refrigerator; the large, woodier bulbs can last up to a month.
Tender, young kohlrabi is delicious eaten raw, which is also how you can retain its outstanding nutrition. Peel the outer skin, then slice, dice, or grate, and add to salads. Cut them up into crudité and enjoy with your favorite dip. Grated kohlrabi can be added to slaw, but it helps if you lightly salt it first and let stand for several minutes. Squeeze to remove any excess water before adding dressing.
You can steam or boil kohlrabi until tender, then peel the skin, and season with butter, salt, and pepper, some kind of sauce, or just enjoy plain. Kohlrabi also makes a nice substitute for zucchini, potatoes or turnips when making veggie pancakes for the GAPS diet. You can also slice kohlrabi very thin with a mandolin, season, and dehydrate or bake it into chips!
Fresh, green kohlrabi leaves can be enjoyed as cooked greens. Wash the leaves and remove the ribs. Blanch in boiling water until just wilted. Drain and squeeze excess water from the leaves, then chop them and saute in a little olive oil or butter. Season with salt and pepper. Add a splash of vinegar or squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Yum!
Here are two simple raw kohlrabi recipes so you can get the most out of this delicious vegetable.