Hippies and foodies seem to rave about kohlrabi but, outside of this circle, this veggie still seems to be quite exotic. Maybe even unheard of. Unless you’re a Fraggle Rock aficionado and remember that in episode 506, one of the fraggles uses kohlrabi juice to poison the knobblies. Don’t let kohlrabi’s five minutes of TV infamy make you think that it’s poisonous, though. It is anything but (more on its health benefits later).
I was kohlrabi-ignorant until only last month. I mean, I had this vague idea of what I thought it was, sort of like how I think I know what the capital of Australia is, but then when I try to grasp at my notion it eludes me (Sydney? Melbourne? No, it must be Perth…). Fortunately, my friend My put an end to my ignorance when she came to stay with Mike and I for a week. She’s a permaculture student at Merritt College and planted two dozen of these unidentifiable leafy objects in our garden that looked like some sort of kale. But then some developed a big white bulb and others a big purple bulb that continued to swell and swell until our neighbor Ms. Green came out and said, “Why did you plant that kale in those plastic balls?” I had to call My and ask what on earth it was and she said “kohlrabi, of course.”
Since then, there has been a kohlrabaissance at our house. Mike, who doesn’t even really cook, has been yanking these things out of the ground and whipping up kohlrabicentric meals left and right. This is one friggin’ amazing vegetable and I can’t believe it’s not on more menus. It’s a brassica (in the cabbage family) and has a taste similar to turnip and broccoli stem. The bulb is deliciously crisp and flavorful when eaten raw (just peel it first), and also cooks to a perfectly tender and juicy morsel. Throw it in soups, shred it on salads, stir-fry it, or roast it in the oven. Plus, if I haven’t sold you already, the bulb is topped with delicious, healthy greens that can also be eaten raw or cooked like any leafy green. Ta-da!
Kohlrabi comes in two styles: whitish green bulbs and purple bulbs. They are grown all year round but are best from July to November. Everyone from paleo people to diabetics should flock to it because it’s a nutrient-dense superfood but also low in calories and carbohydrates, with only 27 calories per half cup serving. Kohlrabi is packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals like isothiocyanate, sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol that protect against cancers and inflammatory diseases. It’s also full of B-complex vitamins which aid in metabolism. The leaves are as healthy as any other dark leafy green, with lots of carotenes, vitamin-A, vitamin K, minerals, and B vitamins.
The flavor of kohlrabi makes it delicious even on its own, but I think its delicate broccoli-like flavor pairs especially nicely with asian flavors. That’s what inspired these kohlrabi lettuce wraps. These are a vegan version of the ever-so-popular PF Chang’s lettuce wraps, but I daresay they are even better. So even if you are a meat-eater, please give these a try on a Meatless Monday and bask in the perfection of this wonderful vegetable.
By the way, the capital of Australia is Canberra.
Kohlrabi Lettuce Wraps
- 2 tablespoons oil (olive, peanut, or whatever you prefer)
- 2 kohlrabi, bulb diced into cubes, leaves sliced.
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1″ nub of ginger, minced
- 4 scallions/green onions, sliced
- 1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and diced
- 2 tablespoons dry sherry wine (or white wine)
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 3 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce (if gluten free substitute gluten-free soy sauce)
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce (like Huy Fong)
- Fresh lettuce leaves for serving as wraps (such as iceberg or butter lettuce)
- Fresh chopped cilantro and scallions for garnish
To prepare the kohlrabi, first trim the leaves from the bulb at the base of each stem. Then peel the bulb with a vegetable peeler to remove the tough outer layer. Dice the kohlrabi into small cubes. Then take the leaves and separate them from the stems. Slice the stems and set aside with the kohlrabi cubes. Slice the leaves and set aside.
In a large wok or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the kohlrabi stems and three quarters of the kohlrabi cubes (not the leaves) and stir-fry for 3-5 minutes or until the kohlrabi begins to brown slightly. Next add the minced garlic, ginger, and scallions to the wok and stir-fry 1 more minute. Then add the mushrooms, kohlrabi leaves (if you have them) and sherry wine and stir. Let simmer on medium-low heat for a few minutes while you make the sauce, stirring occasionally.
For the sauce, combine the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar and chili garlic sauce. Set aside 1/3 of it to use as a dipping sauce. Pour the rest in the wok and stir to coat the kohlrabi mixture and cook until the vegetables are nice and tender. Turn the heat off and add the remaining raw kohlrabi cubes you set aside earlier for added crunch.
When ready to serve, have each person make a lettuce wrap: top a lettuce leaf with the kohlrabi mixture, garnish with fresh cilantro and scallions, and serve with the dipping sauce you set aside earlier.