Have you heard of Kohlrabi? Or, maybe you've seen this in the market and wondered what you could do with this funky thing?
I've seen it plenty of times, most notably at farmers' markets around here, where it seems to be offered on every table. I picked up a small bunch during our last trip, figuring it was time I tried it out myself. A relative of the cabbage family, as soon as we got home and I washed one, I took a knife and sliced a little nugget out to try. Refreshingly crisp, the first thought that entered my mind was it tasted very much like broccoli stems! From what I've gathered after talking to the older farming couple behind the stand, they suggested that one should try and buy them when the bulbs are on the smaller side (softball size or less) - this is when they are at the peak, being quite sweet and tender.
Loving them raw (and I even got Jeff to try a piece... surprise, he even thought it was nice! Woo!), I figured we'd just toss them into a salad and start there. However, after searching around, I found they can be excellent cooked, which led me to this Kohlrabi and Ham Gratin we had as a side recently.
Sliced thinly, the kohlrabi was tossed into a pot of boiling, salted water to cook through. Look for the slices to be tender, but not mushy - you want them to retain a bite to the center as there is additional cooking time to be had. Layered into a baking dish just like your everyday potato gratin, to bind this dish together, we poured over a snazzy cheese sauce made with thickened milk, sharp cheddar and strips of smoked ham. Seasoned with salt and black pepper, there was one tiny addition that may be a surprise to some... fresh grated nutmeg! A pinch does wonders for white sauces, bringing that "I can't pick out what makes this special, but I like it!" reaction.
Since this was going to be pretty tender when done, before being baked, we scattered over fresh whole-wheat breadcrumbs to give this gratin a touch of crunch on top. Now, I'm sure it's hard for anything to be bad covered in a creamy cheese sauce, but we thought this was surprisingly good! I don't know what I was expecting, but I guess I wasn't shooting for much as this was so new to us. I did wait about ten minutes or so to cool down, then sliced into this and was able to pull out pieces that were still warm, yet held together without wobbling off the spatula or oozing all over once plated.
If you are lucky enough to find the bulbs with their greens attached, they are completely edible and would be a pleasant to use for cooked greens - think Swiss chard leaves as the kohlrabi greens are quite mild. If you'd rather try it out in its raw state, try grating one into your favorite slaw recipe for a sweet contrast! Either way, I do implore you to seek out this vegetable if you can still find it in your markets (I do realize it is fairly late in its season)... don't be afraid - pick up a bunch and jump right in! If you've already missed out, keep your eyes peeled for them in the fall!
Kohlrabi and Ham Gratin