Get Comfortable With Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi. You may have seen this hot air balloon-meets-space alien at your local farmers market or grocery but were a bit perplexed with what the heck it was, let alone how to prepare it. Want to know more? First, some history …

Kohlrabi is also known as German turnip or turnip-cabbage — in fact, the name itself comes from the two German words for turnip and cabbage, even though it is officially neither. It is used primarily in German and Eastern European cuisine, as well as in southern Indian recipes. Kohlrabi is in the Brassica family, which means it’s closely related to cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and current culinary superstars kale and cauliflower. It is often misclassified as a root vegetable due to its turnip-esque appearance — with broad, flat collard-like leaves radiating from a bulbous root-like portion — but it is actually an edible stem that grows above the ground line. 

Much like its cousins, kohlrabi can be enjoyed either raw or cooked. Beneath its sometimes woody skin lies a mild, crisp and juicy vegetable with a texture similar to raw cabbage and a great nutritional profile. At just 36 calories per 1cup raw serving, it also offers 5 grams of fiber and 140 percent of the RDA for vitamin C, as well as a high amount of potassium and folate.

Intrigued? When shopping for kohlrabi, select those that are small to medium for the best flavor and texture. The leaves should still be attached, which is a good thing, as they are also delicious. The kohlrabi should be evenly colored light green with no yellowing at the base or leaves. You may find purple kohlrabi as well, but the color does not extend beyond the peel, which should be removed before serving with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife. The purple and the green kohlrabi have no taste difference — both are reminiscent of broccoli stem, apple and raw potato.

As noted earlier, kohlrabi can be enjoyed either raw or cooked. Peel and serve with hummus or other dips, grate into a salad or slaw, toss into a stir-fry, lightly steam with a dash of seasoning or add to a roasting pan. I’ve even seen it grilled and fried into vegetable pancakes.

Don’t let its admittedly weird appearance scare you. This lovable oddball can be a great addition to salads, stews and slaws — like in the recipe below — or you could go for minimal prep time and do what my father used to do for us kids as a TV-watching snack:

  • Peel and slice two raw kohlrabi. 
  • Mix ¼ cup mayonnaise with 4 dashes pickapeppa sauce (a Jamaican bottled condiment).
  • Dip, eat and share.

Kohlrabi slaw

Recipe developed by Vanessa Oliver, MS, RD, LD

Serves 4

Ingredients
2 medium kohlrabi, peeled and julienned (julienne the leaves and throw them in too!)
1 medium head bok choy, chopped
3 ribs celery, sliced on the bias
1 bunch green onions (green and white parts), chopped
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons roasted salted sunflower seeds
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 jalapeño (optional)

Directions

  1. Toss all ingredients together, and serve with the dressing of your choice. This one is good: Whisk together ¼ cup creamy natural peanut butter (sunflower butter or tahini would also work well), 1 tablespoon spicy sesame oil, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, ¼ cup unsweetened apple juice and 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari until smooth.
Vanessa Oliver
Vanessa Oliver, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and wellness specialist with the University of Kentucky Health and Wellness Program. She is mad for hiking, farmers markets and Sunday cooking.