Alien Vegetables

My best friend still remembers the last time she took me to the Madison, Wisconsin farmer’s market (the best I have ever been to). After two hours of swirling round and round the capitol building, buying cheese and fruit and all manner of exotic Vietnamese greens, I exclaimed, as we reached a new stall piled with leafy vegetables: “LOOK at that kohlrabi! It’s GORgeous!”

“You keep SAYING that!” she said. “What are you, obsessed?”

What can I say: it looks like an alien space station. And it tastes like jicama. No, a radish! Wait–turnips? At its best it is crisp without being woody, with an elusive flavor that combines the sweetness of turnips and the spiciness of radishes. And that’s just when it’s raw; cooked it softens, mellows, and reminds one that it is considered (though it isn’t truly), a root vegetable.

I had only just discovered kohlrabi before my overly enthusiastic market tour, and I’ve been an active proselytizer ever since.

Unlike the usual roots–turnips, rutabagas, etc, which are usually associated with fall and winter cookery–kohlrabi makes me think of spring. Maybe it’s how green they are, or the enormous floppy leaves on the myriad octopus-leg stems; no matter. Come spring, I want to eat kohlrabi. I developed the year’s first craving last week, when, though the temperatures were still sub-arctic, the blinding sunlight reminded me that it really was April. I put the vegetable prominently at the top of my shopping list and dreamed up recipe ideas when I ought to have been working.

When the weekend came, I bounced into the grocery store, my eyes peeled for the familiar alien tentacles. But wait: what’s this? The only kohlrabi for sale was purple, and not only that, but so outlandishly priced as to be comparable to imported truffles. I love kohlrabi, but not enough to forgo a day’s worth of groceries in favor of two servings of it. Sadly, I crossed the kohlrabi off of my list.

An hour or two later, my errands almost done, I stopped into a supremely crunchy independant market, the only place nearby that carries my favored brand of multivitamin. Idly glancing through the produce section, hoping for one of their unpredictable fruit sales, I caught a passing glimpse of something greenish, round and nobbly. I whirled: perfect baseball-sized kohlrabi, the leaves a little wilted, but still Easter-grass green and tender. I carried off three specimens, the stems so long as to have to hoist them like sheaves of wheat, and drove off home to consider preparation.

Given my thoughts of spring, I immediately quashed all other ideas but that of a salad. I dressed mache and the torn kohlrabi leaves (perked up in the chill of the refrigerator) with a lemon-mustard vinaigrette and arranged the greens on two plates. The kohlrabi bulbs I peeled and thinly sliced, then tossed them around in the dregs of the vinaigrette and arranged them on top of the greens. Lastly, a handful of green peas (defrosted from a frozen bag, it’s true) were sprinkled over all, along with salt and coarse pepper.

It was a lovely salad. The leaves were yielding, the kohlrabi crisp and the peas sweet; the lemon vinaigrette tied all the ingredients together without calling undue attention to itself. It must be admitted that in my enthusiasm, I failed to consider how difficult it would be to get everything onto the fork at once, so in the future I would chop the kohlrabi rather than slice it, but this is a minor quibble. With both sunshine and above-freezing temperatures in the forecast, this kohlrabi just might be a harbinger of spring.

Published in: on April 18, 2007 at 9:10 am  Leave a Comment  

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