Cool, Crunchy Kohlrabi

An irregular, heart-shaped bulb with leaves sprouting off of it, kohlrabi looks like an extraterrestrial turnip. Like cabbage, it comes in green and purple varieties, and is in season now. But kohlrabi won’t last past the first deep freeze, so look for the strange brassica at local farmers markets in the next few weeks.

“It has a very mild, turnip-y flavor,” says Jane Lear, the former senior articles editor at Gourmet magazine. “Some people say it reminds them of broccoli stalks.”

Though it may seem alien to even devoted vegetable lovers, kohlrabi actually has a long culinary history in America, as well as throughout Asia and Northern Europe. Lear notes that it’s often served with a cream or cheese sauce in Germany. “In the first century A.D., Pliny the Elder described a Corinthian turnip which grew above ground,” she says, adding that kohlrabi has been cultivated in America since the 18th century.

Farmer Benjamin Shute of Hearty Roots Farm also breaks down an unusual aspect of kohlrabi: The edible portion is not a root, though its bulbousness makes it look like one. “Kohlrabi is a member of the brassica family where you’re eating the stem,” he says. “And it’s been bred and selected over many, many generations to have that big, tender, fat stem of the plant.” The little shoots coming off the sides of the stem are actually just leaf stalks.

The leaves themselves are also edible, though not plentiful. Lear says she likes to sauté them with any other greens, like kale or collards, she has on hand. Kohlrabi should be peeled, especially if eaten raw, since the skin is tough. It can be cut up into sticks for vegetable trays or incorporated into salads for a nice crunch. Lear adds that kohlrabi can be treated just like turnips—roasted, steamed or mashed. Check out her recipe below.

Roasted Kohlrabi and Winter Squash
by Jane Lear

This recipe is adapted from one by my former colleague Paul Grimes. It's wonderful at Thanksgiving, of course, and it's also delicious with roast chicken, roast duck, or pork chops. Sometimes, I substitute sweet potatoes, or even carrots, for the squash.

  • 2 1/2 pounds kohlrabi (about 4 medium), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 to 3 thyme or rosemary sprigs (optional)
  • Good balsamic vinegar (optional)

1. Put a large rimmed baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the kohlrabi with 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the kohlrabi on one half of the baking sheet (careful: It’s hot!) and roast for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in the same bowl, toss the squash with the remaining tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper.

3. Pull the baking sheet out of the oven and give the kohlrabi a stir. Spread the squash on the other side of the pan and scatter the herbs, if using, over all. Roast vegetables, stirring squash halfway through, until very tender and caramelized in spots, about 30 minutes more,

4. Discard the herb sprigs. Toss the roasted vegetables with a drizzle of balsamic, if desired, and serve.