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Kohlrabi

During World War II the United States Department of Agriculture encouraged United States citizens to grow their own “Victory Gardens” to supplement each family’s food rations.

Doing so would not only ease the strain on America’s food supply, but also diminish the demand for the costly tin used in canned foods. My mother grew up during the war, and she had often reminisced to me about her own family’s Victory Garden. She seemed to hold particularly high esteem for a vegetable called kohlrabi. She said that this was the only vegetable, other than carrots, that all five children of the family relished eating raw.

But when I was growing up, Mom worked outside the home and Dad was busy with his teaching career, so my family didn’t cultivate a garden. And because it wasn’t available commercially, I had neither seen nor tasted kohlrabi until just three years ago. I happened to be perusing the seed display at the nursery when I caught sight of the kohlrabi selection. I had to laugh, though when I studied the pictures of them.

I thought, “What an odd-looking vegetable!”

The main body of the plant was a three-inch in diameter “bulb” balanced precariously atop a short, thin single stem. The bulb itself sported long, thin green appendages reaching skyward, which were topped with leaves.

My immediate reaction was, “Why, it’s a spaceship! A tiny sputnik spaceship!”

I just knew I had to put this intriguing vegetable to the taste test by including it in my garden, for I had yet to see this oddity in a grocery store. The seed packet informed me that it took a mere 50 days from germination to harvest, so why not?

The kohlrabi bulb, actually a swollen stem, is the most delectable portion of the plant. Its flavor resembles a turnip but has a delicately sweet flavor with a wonderfully crisp texture. Some folks liken it to a radish imbued with the sweetness of jicama. My family enjoys eating peeled thinly sliced raw kohlrabi bulb either plain or with ranch salad dressing. It’s also delightful cooked in stir-fries, where its fine-grained flesh readily absorbs flavorings such as soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic. Because it’s a member of the cabbage family, the leaves and stems taste like cabbage with a bit more zest and toughness. I generally chop them up to incorporate them into soup. And if you par-boil them first, they too will lend flavor and texture to stir-fries.

Kohlrabi abounds with nutrients. One cup provides 140 percent DV of Vitamin C, 13.5 percent DV Potassium, ten percent DV Vitamin B6, and more. As a bonus, this wonder veggie is packed with phytochemicals, which help prevent cellular damage, and cancer-fighting glucosinolates. Other benefits of eating kohlrabi include: improving heart health, decreasing risk of diabetes and obesity, lowering blood pressure, and reducing C-reactive protein.

You may start planting kohlrabi seeds in spring as soon as your rich, loamy soil can be worked. Sow them one-fourth to on-half of an inch deep, one inch apart and keep evenly moist. Now here’s where you must be a bit patient—the seeds may take 14 to 21 days to germinate. If you don’t want to wait that long, check with the nursery; they’ll most likely have ready-to-plant kohlrabi seedlings this spring. Once your seedlings have attained two true leaves, thin the plants to about six inches apart. Now all you have to do is keep the soil moist and weed-free. For a continuous crop, sow again every two or three weeks until sixty days before your average hard frost date. Don’t worry if your mature plants receive some frost. The coldness will stimulate your plants to become even sweeter!

Most kohlrabi varieties taste best and are less fibrous when the bulb is about three inches in diameter. To me, the purple varieties taste the same as the green ones. Enjoy!

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Cindy Murray is a biologist, elementary tutor and Master Gardener. Gardening questions can be sent to CoconinoMasterGardeners@gmail.com or submitted to the Master Gardener Hotline: 928-773-6115.

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