If you have ever gone to the farmers market and seen a green or purple vegetable that looks like it might have come from another planet, you might have been looking at a kohlrabi. Also called German turnip, kohlrabi is in the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts and collard greens. Though it looks strange, this scrumptious cole crop is easy to grow in Maine and very versatile in the kitchen.
“It’s basically the bloated stem of a cabbage,” said Rob Dumas, food science innovation coordinator at the University of Maine. “It’s a strange looking vegetable. They come in purple and green and sometimes they have a hard little woody stem coming out of the bottom and a tuft of leaves coming out the top of them. I think they’re kind of beautiful honestly. They kind of look like a Martian vegetable.”
Kohlrabi is a storage vegetable, so it will last a long time in a cool place like your refrigerator or root cellar.
“They’re something you can put in the crisper drawer for months and they’ll be perfectly fine to eat,” Dumas said. “For farmers, it’s a good vegetable too because it’s easy to grow and easy to store. It’s one of those things that’s well acclimated to our climate, unlike a pepper or tomato or something.”
Kohlrabi is also relatively easy to grow. Dumas said you have to look out for common garden pests like flea beetles and cabbage loopers, as well as the balance of moisture — kohlrabi, like tomatoes, can split with fluctuations in moisture — but said he has successfully grown kohlrabi “without a whole lot of effort.”
Jay Demers, culinary arts instructor at Eastern Maine Community College, said that he grew kohlrabi for the first time by accident.
“I grew up in a family where we gardened everything and it wasn’t anything we ever planted,” said. “My first experience was planting some broccoli 20 years ago in a garden. I had a plant that didn’t look like broccoli and by the end of the season, I found out it was kohlrabi. It grows really easily.”
Demers said his kohlrabi was a happy accident.
“When I saw it, I looked it up and I sauteed it,” Demers said. “You can harvest some early if you want some that are a little more tender, but even large ones you can slice up — they’re pretty tasty.”