Creative food stylist Ajda Mehmet possesses the gift to create something tasteful out of literally anything. With us she shares her knowledge about uncommon but not forgotten vegetables along with the most delicious recipes to prepare them.
I grew up eating raw kohlrabi. Peeled, sliced, sprinkled with salt and drenched in lemon, we ate it for breakfast, lunch, as part of dinner or just as a snack; usually lined up amongst some sliced baby cucumbers, tomatoes and black olives. You can call it meze if you like, it’s just how it was in our house.
Exploring new food as a child usually followed this simple format where my dad would liken the new thing I was about to taste to something else he knew I already liked. For example, here’s a typical, first-time-trying-something-new dialogue with my dad.
Dad: taste this
Me: what is it?
Dad: it tastes like, um broccoli
Me: ok…mmm yum, what is it?
…and so on, and it worked every time. Even if it didn’t taste like broccoli, because I liked broccoli and that’s what I was expecting it to taste like, I’d usually end up liking the thing, even if I didn’t know what it was.
I’m not ashamed to say that I didn’t know what kohlrabi looked like unpeeled until some years ago. My dad was, and still is, far too keen on them to leave them hanging around in the fridge for any length of time. As soon as we had some they were peeled and eaten, usually on route to the table, so crispy and fresh.
More often these days you find kohlrabi with their alien-like stalks and leaves, utterly beautiful and entirely edible too. If you see them like that, be sure to buy them, the stalks and leaves contain many of the nutrients, especially in the purple ones and can be eaten raw in salads as I did recently (picture) or sautéed like other collard greens. Not as common as their green friends, purple kohlrabi’s colour is contained only in the skin and leaves. Once peeled it reveals the same ivory coloured flesh of a green kohlrabi and tastes a little sweeter. A little like broccoli stems without the bitterness.
Known for being rich in vitamin C, more so than oranges; this cabbage-like bulb contains plenty of magnesium, calcium and iron, making it great for healthy connective tissue, teeth and gums, boosting immunity and also a good helping of anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. The purple ones in particular, due to the anthocyanin, mean the stalks and leaves have plenty of cancer-fighting compounds. It’s win win. Not only is it affordable, readily available, it’s versatile, nature allows us to enjoy it raw, steamed, sautéed, roasted and so on; not forgetting it tastes amazing.
Ottolenghi likes his chopped into matchsticks and added to a variety of salads, my first choice would always be to eat it raw with salt and lemon, but if I’m in the mood for something special, this is what I make.
Kohlrabi with polenta crumble
Put 100gr polenta* in plenty of water and leave for half an hour. Sieve and leave to drain. Boil 2l water and let 1 cube vegetable stock dissolve. Cut of the stems and hard bottoms of 4 kohlrabi’s, cut in half, widthwise, add to the stock and cook for 15 minutes. Place them side by side in a greased baking dish, the cutting edge facing up.
Preheat the oven to 180 °C.
Mix the polenta together with 100g flour, 1tbsp finely chopped rosemary needles, 100g Parmesan cheese and 100g butter into a crumbly dough and spread out over the kohlrabi’s. Put the dish in the oven and bake for around 25 minutes until golden brown and cooked.
*Polenta is a traditional Italian dish made from corn flour. Because corn is gluten free, it is a perfect substitute for other grains in case of allergies. The taste of corn flour is creamier than wheat and when combined with herbs surprisingly good.
The parmesan is perfect with the slightly nutty taste of the baked kohlrabi and I can imagine it would be even more delicious with a dollop of crème fraîche or yoghurt on the side.