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How to Grow and Cook Kohlrabi and Rosemary

Use these tips and recipes to help bring kohlrabi to your dinner table and check-out these tips on how to grow and use rosemary.

| February/March 2016

  • Kohlrabi and rosemary pair wonderfully, and they're readily available as fresh crops through colder days.
    Photo by Barbara Damrosch
  • Kohlrabi yield edible leaves, and the crispy orbs are excellent winter keepers.
    Photo by Barbara Damrosch

Many people have never tasted alien-looking kohlrabi, but when they do, they find the crisp texture a nice surprise. Though related to cabbages, turnips and broccoli — kohlrabi translates from German to “cabbage turnip” — kohlrabi is milder than those brassicas. I like to spark up its pleasant, distinctive flavor with an assertive herb. During winter months, when I cook my stash of kohlrabi, the herb I choose is often the rosemary grown in a pot that I’ve brought indoors. Kohlrabi and rosemary pair wonderfully, and they’re readily available as fresh crops through colder days.

What Is Kohlrabi?

Kohlrabi is usually considered a root vegetable, although technically its round globes are enlarged stem bases. Unlike true root vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips, kohlrabi doesn’t grow underground.

A kohlrabi “root” perches on the soil surface, sustained by a fibrous system of true roots below ground. It’s an odd-looking, smooth-skinned orb with stiff stalks protruding from various points on its surface, like antennas pointing to the sky. The stalks on the sides bear large, dark green leaves — similar to collards — with new, smaller foliage sprouting from the top. Kohlrabi leaves are edible. So are the stalks, but, in my view, they’re too tough to be worth the trouble of peeling and cooking.

Similar to its cabbage-family relatives, kohlrabi likes fertile soil with plenty of organic matter, and does best in cool weather. You could plant an early crop of baby kohlrabi for a late spring treat, but if you have to choose only one season, a fall crop makes more sense. We sow kohlrabi seed indoors in midsummer, and, as with most brassicas, set it out in the garden when the seedlings are about 3 weeks old. Then, we leave it in the ground until a hard frost is predicted. To harvest, we cut the orb at the base with loppers — the tissue there is too tough for a knife.

Kohlrabi’s globes act as the plant’s storage organs, just as carrots’ roots do. We’ve found that kohlrabi keeps all winter when stored in the root cellar. If you don’t have a cellar, use a frost-free outbuilding, a spare fridge or a cool room. Kohlrabi leaves will keep for at least a week if refrigerated.

Kohlrabi comes in pale green and bright purple hues. Varieties range from small (no bigger than 2 to 3 inches in diameter) to giant (the size of bowling balls). For a long time, I grew only the little ones, picking them young before they could become woody. Then, we started growing great big kohlrabi to feed to our laying hens in winter. The chickens adored them, and, amazingly, we liked them too. The large kohlrabi — maybe not the biggest ones, but those about 4 to 8 inches across — even became a hot item with our customers at the winter farmers market.

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