Demystifying kohlrabi

green kohlrabi
green kohlrabi

There are few vegetables more intimidating than kohlrabi.

This alien creature, shaped like a Sputnik with leafy arms sprouting from a pale green or purple sphere, gets a wide berth from those of us who didn’t grow up with it.

In fact, kohlrabi — German for cabbage-turnip — may be the most mild-mannered vegetable of the bunch. Crisp and refreshing, it tastes like broccoli stems with a hint of radish, and lends itself to all sorts of summer salads, stir-fries, even snacks.

I’m hoping the four leafy plants in my garden will grow to maturity so I can watch the now-spindly stems balloon to good-sized purple bulbs above ground. The sturdy grey-green leaves, which taste like kale, already look ready to splash around in hot butter and garlic.

Earl Young, who learned to grow kohlrabi and other specialty vegetables from his father, Norman, in the heart of the Holland Marsh, says he began harvesting and bundling his bulbs at the end of June for a major chain and expects to finish around the end of October.

But it’s been a tough season, he says. In mid-June, flooding left his fields underwater, followed by sizzling temperatures that withered 80 per cent of his early crop.

When the temperature finally dropped, a devious pest appeared to prevent some bulbs from forming.

“We’re hoping the fall crop will pull us through,” says Young, who put his farm up for sale at the end of July after more than 30 years in the business. He dreams of leaving the stress of farming behind and finding a 9-to-5 job.

Another reason to put aside our fears and give this odd vegetable a try.

International appeal

Kohlrabi’s fans are incredibly diverse, hailing from Germany, Eastern Europe, China and India, where the leaves are also used.

Good for you

Like kale and broccoli, kohlrabi belongs to the disease-fighting Brassica family.

The bulbs are low in calories and a good source of vitamin C and potassium.

Buy & Store

Look for Ontario kohlrabi in markets and supermarkets until the end of October.

Choose smooth-skinned green or purple bulbs with no cracks. Both look and taste the same inside.

Small or large, Young says local varieties are bred to be tender.

If bulbs are sold with leaves attached, the leaves should be firm and green, not yellow.

Store bulbs and leaves separately in perforated plastic bags. Use leaves within several days; bulbs within several weeks.


Wash leaves well and strip off tough stems before using.

Peel bulb with a sharp paring knife and remove any fibrous layers, especially on the bottom.

Slice or cut naked bulb into rounds, half-moons, sticks, wedges, cubes or julienne strips. A mandolin or vegetable slicer works well.


Use kohlrabi in any recipe that calls for turnip or rutabaga.

Cut in sticks and serve as a snack with dip.

Slice thinly or shred for salad or slaw.

Chop and add to soups or stews.

Boil or steam and mash with potatoes or other root vegetables.

Roast in wedges or chunks in a hot oven until brown and tender.

Sauté thin slices in butter or bacon fat about 10 minutes or until tender.

Sauté leaves like kale or Swiss chard, in a little olive oil with garlic.

Stuff peeled, hollowed-out bulbs with ground meat.

Kohlrabi apple salad
Kohlrabi apple salad

Kohlrabi Apple Salad

This fresh-tasting salad was inspired by chefs Alex Chong and Tina Leckie, who champion local ingredients at Café Fiorentina on the Danforth.

Lemon-Honey Dressing

¼ cup (60 mL) olive oil

2 tbsp (30 mL) lemon juice

1 tbsp (15 mL) liquid honey 1 small shallot, minced or 2 tbsp (30 mL) minced yellow onion ½ tsp (2 mL) chili oil or hot sauce

¼ tsp (1 mL) salt 1/8 tsp (1 mL) freshly ground pepper


2 medium to large kohlrabi, peeled 1 medium apple, unpeeled, halved and cored 3 radishes, unpeeled, thinly sliced 2 tbsp (30 mL) minced fresh dill

For the lemon-honey dressing, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice and honey until thick in a large bowl. Stir in shallots, chili oil, salt and pepper and mix well. Set aside.

For the salad, cut kohlrabi into horizontal slices ¼-inch (.5 cm) thick with a sharp knife or mandolin. Stack slices and cut vertically into matchsticks ½ inch (1cm) wide.

Slice apple halves lengthwise the same thickness as kohlrabi. Stack slices and cut vertically into sticks the same width as kohlrabi. Or shred both ingredients to make cole slaw.

Stir sliced apple, kohlrabi and radishes into the dressing and toss well to coat. Check seasoning, garnish with dill and serve immediately. Refrigerate leftovers.

Makes 4 servings.

 Toronto Star, Aug. 8, 2013 


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