Kohlrabi, International Vegetable of Mystery

Check it out: kohlrabi is NOT a root vegetable!

Last summer, my friend Alex gave me a packet of kohlrabi seeds that she had purchased on a recent visit with her family in Switzerland. The instructions were in German, but I thought I could figure out what I needed to know: you plant them in early spring for a summer crop or mid-summer for a fall crop. I thought it odd that the illustrations suggested starting the seeds indoors, but hey, who am I to question Swiss ingenuity?

So I planted my kohrabi and watched them grow. Huh, I though. They look a lot like broccoli.

Then last week I started poking around the soil. I had seem some kohlrabi at my local farmer’s market, and some of my beets were starting to show their shoulders, so surely the kohlrabi should be on its way, right? But when I pushed the dirt around, no sign of a root vegetable. Disappointing.

Then I looked up. Then I smacked myself on the forehead. As you can see in the picture, that little knob of kohlrabi deliciousness forms ABOVE GROUND, as a sort of engorged part of the stem. Um, obviously. That part of the description must have been in German.

My understanding is that I should harvest them when they reach about 3″. They’re planted too close together, so I may not have much choice in the matter…but now that I know what I’m doing I’m definitely going to plant another batch for fall, this time giving them more room to breathe.

Clearly, I’m a kohlrabi novice. What do they taste like, anyway? I’m guessing a cross between broccoli stems and turnips? Can anybody fill me in?

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18 comments to Kohlrabi, International Vegetable of Mystery

  • I am interested in knowing the same thing! I have been seeing Kohlrabi at the Farmers Markets but what the heck do you do with them!? lol

  • Rebecca

    We grew kohlrabi for the first time this year too. Two varieties: Purple and Superschmelz. They taste like what you’d expect from a cole crop, I’d say more like a cross between broccoli and cabbage but with a sweeter hint. We’ve tried them roasted, mashed, and raw. Cooked forms, meh, not so much impressed. Raw in salads or as crudites or made into a slaw with carrots and apples, pretty good. I searched for cooked kohlrabi recipes and really didn’t find anything beyond mashed or roasted. If you find something different I sure would appreciate the input. We’ll probably grow them again next year but not in the amount we did this year.

  • I’ve made pickled kohlrabi and carrots and enjoyed it.

  • I find kohlrabi can sometimes taste a little like cauliflower when cooked. Far more neutral than I expected. I love roasting cubes of it in the oven tossed in oil then tossing them with a little apple cider vinegar right out of the oven. Have also made a pretty good slaw with it too.

  • Anduin

    Actually, they do taste remarkably like a broccoli stem, but maybe not as strong of flavor. I like to use them wherever I want crunch. After peeling off the green part, I like to slice them very thinly, sprinkle them with salt and eat them in place of potato chips. In that form, all you really taste is the salt and cold and watery. They are also good in cabbage (or other veg) salads. In my opinion, they offer better crunch and flavor than celery. I think they would be very good pickled–I just have never tried it. Also, I think you can use the young leaves as you would chard or other greens. I wouldn’t try it with the old leaves.

  • Erika

    My favorite kohlrabi recipe is to make a thai green mango salad but substitute the mango for kohlrabi. I got a really good one from the Bon Appetit website a few months ago. I was surprised, but kohlrabi is pretty sweet when it’s raw, and it gives a really great crunch that plays well with the salty/sour/spicy flavors in the salad. Enjoy!

  • Rebecca

    Thanks for reminding me Anduin! I’ve been using the leaves as a substitute for grape leaves when making dolmade. The older ones are ok for that too. You’ve inspired me to try slicing the kohlrabi thinly, tossing in salt and olive oil and dehydrating to make “chips”. I’ve got way too many of these puppies in my fridge. Thanks for this afternoon’s project!

  • anduin

    Rebecca, do report back on your project!

  • Rebecca

    Kohlrabi chips are tasty! I peeled and sliced them with the 2mm blade on the food processor, blotted them dry, then tossed with a little olive oil and seasoned salt. Spread them on the dehydrator racks and dried at 125F for 12 hours. From one giant kohlrabi and three purple kohlrabi I ended up with about the same amount as what comes in a medium potato chip bag. They are crunchy with a hint of sweet at first bite and end with a bit of chew. Since we still have several giants in the garden I’m going to try different herbs and spices with those.

  • I saw these the other day at the farmers market and was intrigued. Any ideas on what your going to use them in?

  • as soon as i saw your post pop up on my feedly i had to run on over here because, get this:

    kohlrabi is my favorite vegetable! yes, it’s true. they can be pickled, cooked in curries, roasted, chopped raw in salads etc. and the leaves are like kale and can be used just the same. but here’s the clincher; just peel those babies whole & salt ’em up and yum! my favorite way to eat them. i have been known to devour 3 large ones in a sitting.

    …and i would say they taste like broccoli stems but less broccoli-like and with a subtle sweetness that melds perfectly with just a bit of sea salt!

  • When I taught at a high school in the Czech Republic, the school cafeteria was handing them out whole and raw, like apples. (And I was told, you could just eat them straight if you wanted). I had never seen a kohlrabi before then. It’s really amazing what that ancient brassica ancestor has been bred into by farmers over the years–cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi…and surely more.

  • sara – that is quite interesting. i am of slovakian decent – tho have never been to that country (yet) i’ve only tasted a kohlrabi for the first time 5 years ago. and i have been eating them with relish out of hand ever since. …maybe it’s in my blood! 🙂

  • Yup, raw is definitely the way to go with kohlrabi – except for the leaves, which I treat just like collard greens. I had not thought of using it to make a faux green papaya salad, though – now I know what to do with the bunch that came in this week’s CSA basket!

  • Cheri

    We just got some kohlrabi in our CSA box this week and were looking for what to do with it. We decided to try peeling and slicing it and tossing it into a chicken vegitable stir fry. It turned out great. Had that crunch you expect from the water chestnuts, but I felt the flavor actualy went better. I don’t care for water chestnuts. This was our first attempt with kohlrabi and we were thrilled. I am suprised to see the picture because we assumed they were a root vegetable.

  • Alex

    It’s fascinating to see all your ideas for how to use kohlrabi! It’s never occurred to me that one could cook them. In Switzerland, they’re served the same way Sara describes them being served in the Czech Republic. They’re a delicious and refreshing raw snack. If they’re young, you don’t even need to peel them, just slice into wedges and serve. I’ve never thought they needed salt and pepper, but maybe you will.

  • Larissa

    Mmmm, kohlrabi! I enjoy them fresh or grated into salads as many others, but had not thought of trying in the Thai green papaya salad!!! Thanks! (I lived in Thailand for a year, and that was one of my fav salads, but it’s hard to replicate here, so this could be an interesting substitute).
    I have this cookbook that I just love. It’s put out by Herald Press (linked with the Mennonite Central Committee), and it’s called Simply in Season. They have a neat recipe Kohlrabi with Peas and Potatoe where they’re cooked with dry mustard, cumin, tumeric and coriander, and then simmered with tomatoes, water, sugar and salt. They also say that you can simmer the kohlrabi leaves when finely chopped, and add those as well. It’s quite tasty!!!

  • Helen

    I tried my first kohlrabi today in a seasonal salad. I cut them into small sticks and they were delicious. I like the stir fry idea. I will use the remainder in that tomorrow.