Weeknight Vegetarian: Kohlrabi tastes good, any way you look at it

Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post - Kohlrabi Potato Soup is a perfect vehicle for its mild-tasting signature ingredient.

Cookbook author James Peterson compares its flavor to those of turnips and radishes. In her “Vegetable Literacy,” Deborah Madison says it reminds her most of cauliflower. To Post gardening columnist Barbara Damrosch, it can be as sweet as a parsnip if harvested in late fall.

They’re all talking about kohlrabi, but about the only things they agree on are that it tastes relatively mild and looks relatively strange. (In “Vegetables, Revised,” Peterson writes that the round orb with stems and leaves shooting straight up looks “like an organ on life support,” while Damrosch prefers a Sputnik analogy.)

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

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Like many cooks, I’ve mostly eaten kohlrabi raw, used as crudite or grated into a salad. At this time of year my impulse turns to soup. Area farmers market maven Robin Shuster has been telling me for years that when she cooks kohlrabi into a chunky soup, it carries the flavors of both cabbage and potatoes. When I’ve pureed it, I’ve found the texture a little watery, so I’ve started including an actual potato in the mix, too.

Most of the time when I see it in the markets, this brassica (related to, yes, cabbage and cauliflower but also to kale, broccoli and more) has been snipped of its stems and leaves, but if you find it with the greens attached, they’re worth cooking. Treat them like collards, and you’ll see what I mean.

A friend who has been spotting it recently on restaurant menus around town has taken to repeated proclamations that “Kohlrabi is the new cauliflower.” I don't know about that, but when he came over for dinner recently I made the soup in his honor. To echo its texture when raw, I garnished the thick soup with diced Asian pear (in addition to pecans and parsley), adding a little sweetness and crunch.

How did the kohlrabi taste? I can see why cooks disagree: It’s got a little broccoli flavor, a bit of cauliflower, a hint of turnip, a touch of celery. But maybe it’s time to stop the comparisons and say that it tastes . . . just like kohlrabi.

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