I'm a vegetable fanatic. When it comes to eating the food on my plate, I gravitate toward the vegetables first and don't care if I fill up before I get to the meat course. But that doesn't mean I've tried every vegetable in the world.
One of those alien vegetables is kohlrabi.
When I was growing up with grandparents and parents who wouldn't think of letting a summer go by without a huge vegetable garden, we grew all the kohlrabi cousins, huge flat heads of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower that had to be blanched, and Brussels sprouts that held out in the garden long after everything else was gone. But no one grew kohlrabi. I'm not sure my grandmother or my mother even knew what a kohlrabi was.
But this spring I spotted the plants at the garden center and decided this was the year to try it. I picked up a six pack of kohlrabi and because they look so much like cabbage in the seedling stage, that six pack of cabbage seedlings I grabbed turned out to be kohlrabi, too. When I started planting, I realized I had a dozen kohlrabi and no cabbage at all. Oh well. I bought a few red cabbage plants, too, which will have to suffice.
I've seen kohlrabi growing before, so I knew that it wasn't the root vegetable growing underground that a lot of people think it is. It isn't a bulb either, but is, in fact, a swollen stem that sits on top of the soil. The leaf-stalks grow straight up in no particular order off of the bulbous stem, giving it that strange alien appearance.
A website I like to peruse sometimes, Vegetarians in Paradise (www.vegparadise.com), describes kohlrabi as resembling ''a hot air balloon.'' I thought that was pretty accurate in describing this strange little vegetable.
My kohlrabi is doing quite well in spite of the dry summer we've been having. I checked on it in the garden just a few days ago, and the bulbs are getting big. So big, in fact, that one ''bulb'' has cracked and I'm not quite sure what to do with it now. So I decided, probably a little too late, to look up recipes and dishes that contain kohlrabi, just to get a few ideas.
Oops. The first bit of information I found said I should have harvested my kohlrabi when it was no more than two inches in diameter. I know the vegetables I've seen in some superstores were bigger than that, which is why I let mine continue to grow. They are still edible, the descriptions say, but now I will have to cut off the hard, outer peel, which becomes tough if the bulb gets too large.
Kohlrabi, it turns out, can be eaten many different ways. The easiest way is to just slice it or cut it into French-fry shapes, sprinkle with salt and eat it raw, as a snack. Raw kohlrabi is great cut into tiny matchsticks for slaw, cubed or sliced and I've seen it shaved, like hard cheese, into salads as well. But you don't have to stop there. Kohlrabi also can be cooked in soups, steamed, grilled, or - and I have to try this - shredded and fried into fritters, like zucchini or carrots.
If that isn't convincing enough, kohlrabi is low in calories. There are only 38 in an entire cup of the raw vegetable. In addition, it is packed with nutrients, including vitamin A, C, folic acid and calcium. It is also high in fiber.
It's no wonder this vegetable has been around as long ago as ancient Rome. I can't imagine why it ever lost favor and isn't as popular today as it was in the first century AD. I thought perhaps it dropped out of sight because it couldn't be easily preserved, but when I researched kohlrabi, I found it can be pickled or frozen for use later in the season.
Now there are no excuses why everyone shouldn't have a few kohlrabi plants in their garden. Go ahead, plant a few now for a late summer harvest. I dare you.