Eat This Now: Kohlrabi

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It’s summer, so our latest installment of “What to Eat Now” features kohlrabi–a radish-like vegetable that will likely appear in farmer’s markets this season.

The food: Kohlrabi is made up of a pale green or purple bulb that sprout multiple stalks of dark green leaves, and both parts are edible. Although it looks like a turnip, kohlrabi is related to the cabbage and broccoli. The bulb is crunchy and a little sweet with some of the sharpness of a radish.

The trend: Popular among Europeans for centuries, the vegetable mostly bypassed the North American continent, where its cousins broccoli and cauliflower dominated the cuisine. But farmer’s market regulars or members of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups are quickly becoming familiar with this vegetable, which is low in calories and high in fiber and potassium.

“I love kohlrabi and I believe that everyone else should, especially since I am German and kohlrabi is a popular vegetable in the Fatherland,” says Kurt Alstede, the general manager of Alstede Farms, a family-owned farm in Chester, New Jersey that grows kohlrabi. “We include kohlrabi in our CSA shares and include plenty of information, instructions, and recipes. Once people try it, they like it. Most folks are not familiar with it until they are acquainted with it through our efforts.”

The nutrients: Kohlrabi contains no fat and just 4 calories a slice or about 36 calories for a cup of raw and diced kohlrabi. It’s also considered a good source of  glucosinolates, which are also found in broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and may enhance the body’s antioxidant functions. There is also early evidence that these compounds may ward off cancer.

“Kohlrabi’s chemopreventive effects makes it particularly healthy, says Kantha Shelke, a food scientist at Corvus Blue LLC and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). “Kohlrabi contains isothiocyanates which are effective against cancer. The chemopreventive compounds are more bioavailable from fresh–about three times as much as from cooked–kohlrabi; the higher bioavailability is associated with a higher chemopreventive activity, which might be the reason why raw kohlrabi is preferentially consumed by health-conscious people.”

The preparation: Kohlrabi can be cooked just like carrots and sweet potatoes. Try this recipe from Alstede Farms:

Cut kohlrabi into small, bite-sized chunks and toss with small amount of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap kohlrabi in aluminum foil (shiny side inside), sealing edges tightly. Place foil packet on grill and cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Flip packet and cook for another 5 to 6 minutes.

In other parts of the world, kohlrabi is consumed quite differently. Shelke says that in northern India, kohlrabi is pickled with a mixture of salt, turmeric powder, dry mustard powder, vinegar and oil and enjoyed in large quantities with bread and yogurt. It’s consumed similarly in Nepal, Tibet and northern China. In countries closer to the Equator, kohlrabi is often grated into pancakes, flat breads and fritters since it retains moistness without changing its taste or texture.

The taste: Kohlrabi’s bulb and stem have a similar taste and crunch to broccoli and the leaves taste a bit like kale or collards. It’s best to eat kohlrabi soon after purchase, since its taste starts to change after harvest.

The takeaway: Try it out. It’ll add a fresh bite to your summer vegetables, and has a wealth of nutrients that will give a healthy boost to any salad.