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Kohlrabi for sale at the Canton farm market last summer. Photo: Julie Grant
Kohlrabi for sale at the Canton farm market last summer. Photo: Julie Grant

Cooking up something new: kohlrabi

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Food is on many a mind as Thanksgiving approaches. Of course, there will be potatoes, squash, and green beans for the big meal. But what about something different?

This past summer, Julie Grant was at the Canton farmers' market looking for something new to put on the table. So she picked up a space-age looking veggie, a kohlrabi, and set out to find some recipes.

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Julie Grant
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I see it, and decide it’s worth a minute to wait in line. I want to find out what it is. It’s got a fist-sized, pale green bulb with large leafy greens shooting up from it. It looks like the bulb might grow underground, but no; there’s a root growing from the bottom of it. The bulb must sit on top the ground. Okay – my turn to talk with the farmer, Brian Bennett of Bittersweet farm in Heuvelton.

"This is kohlrabi. It was more common years ago, not a lot of people know what it is. My kids call it the alien because of the way it looks," says Bennett. He says his mother and grandmother used to grow a lot of kohlrabi and they would let it grow huge, and tough, "and then they’d peel it and cut it up, just like you would potatoes, and boil the life out of it, and feed it to us like boiled cabbage. It’s in same family as cabbage."

Kohlrabi salad. Photo: Julie Grant
Kohlrabi salad. Photo: Julie Grant
Bennett says these days, most of his customers at the farm market don’t want big tough kohlrabi; they prefer tender, small bulbs. He weighs a couple. At a dollar a pound, it’s not going to cost me much to try this little experiment. I get home and google Kohlrabi. Cooking websites suggest roasting the bulb, and sautéing the greens with olive oil and garlic. Sounds pretty good.

I head up to SUNY Potsdam, to meet with Chef Steven Miacco in the kitchen behind the Dexter Cafe for more ideas. He’s a big guy in comfy pants and crocs. And he’s made a big effort in recent years to use local produce in the food served at the college. I put the kohlrabi on the countertop and ask, "So what do you think when you look at this?"

It was more common years ago, not a lot of people know what it is. My kids call it the alien because of the way it looks.
He says kohlrabi can be used for lots of things. "We generally use it here raw. It's a little alien looking, but it has a great flavor. It’s kind of mix between turnip and broccoli. It goes well with lots of things."

The first thing he does is cut the leaves off, and remind me that "you can sauté these as you would kale, or any dark green."

Miacco likes to mix some kohlrabi in with his mashed potatoes for flavor. Today, he’s going to make a raw salad with it. He trims off the leaves. He peels the skin off the bulb, and it does look like a turnip. Then he cuts it into little matchsticks.

"Now in this state, too, you could sauté it in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, it’s a good, hot side dish for any meal," said Miacco. "We’re going to use it raw today."

Miacco pulls out a bowl from the fridge. Earlier, he shaved fennel to mix for the salad. Fennell stalks look kind of like celery, but chopped thinly like this they have good crunch, and a faint licorice taste.

Miacco says "it being summer, and the produce right now, especially kohlrabi and things like that, it’s at its peak and its really really good. We’re just going to mix up some fennel, green onion, lemon vinegarette. Great alternative to a green salad, it’s good with fish, a burger, or by itself."

He mixes up the kohlrabi and fennel with the green onion, and dresses it lightly with a vinaigrette.

Miacco says there are so many good reasons he and the Potsdam college started buying local produce. It keeps money in the local economy. It means fewer fruits and vegetables don’t have to be shipped across the country. But mostly, he says, it just tastes better. Miacco encourages everyone to give it a try and says, "If you’re going to buy tomatoes, buy at farm market. You don’t have to buy kohlrabi…You can’t go wrong buying local."

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