How beautiful is the rain! After the dust and heat, In the broad and fiery street, In the narrow lane, How beautiful is the rain! … Across the window-pane It pours and pours; And swift and wide, With a muddy tide, Like a river down the gutter roars The rain, the welcome rain!
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Oh how we’ve waited for the rain! The drip-drop rain wetting the soil, satiating, refreshing and reviving it. According to the calendar, we are way into winter by now, but until this week the sun was shining away, the birds chirped happily and by afternoon we were wearing t-shirts in the field. It’s been a month since the last generous showers graced us with their presence, and although the sunny blue skies are pretty and impressive, they’re simply out of season.
As mentioned, it is indeed winter, thus this week we finally say goodbye to several crops that have been with us from autumn – the Jerusalem artichoke, sweet potato, and pepper – an extraordinary achievement for the latter, who actually likes the heat and usually stops yielding (and turning red) by fall. Though we will buy sweet potatoes and peppers on occasion to supplement your boxes, we’ll have to wait till next year for our own crops.
But have no fear, for the fava beans and peas are increasing and multiplying, the broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are in joyful abundance, the greens are bright green and the rest of the winter crop – radishes and turnips, fennel and kohlrabi, beets and carrots and more – are readily preparing to bring joy.
Hands Up, Veggies Hands Up!
Often the kohlrabi is likened to an alien, perhaps due to its green color and outreached arms. Our friend is indeed rather strange looking, perhaps because he is a very unconventional phenomenon in the vegetable world. We know vegetables that are the fruit of the plant (tomato, cucumber, squash, pepper, eggplant etc.,) or the leaves (Swiss chard, cabbage, kale, arugula, parsley, etc.) or the flowers (broccoli and cauliflower) and even the roots (beets, sweet potato, radishes or carrots). But this little guy is a stem, a rarity shared by only two other vegetables, from other families: the celery and the fennel. But they’re a whole different story.
Kohlrabi is the son of a prominent family, the Brassicaceae’s, which count among their members such well-loved vegetables as the cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprout. Though these are the family members that hog the spotlight, the bashful kohlrabi is delicious, and it chalks up a champion score in the medicinal value department.
At the start of its growth, the kohlrabi looks a lot like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli or kale plants. It sprouts green leaves on an upright stem. But upon maturity, the kohlrabi searches for an individual identity. Suddenly its stem thickens, curves up and becomes ball-shaped until a round kohlrabi sits on the earth (not under it!), light green (or purple, depending upon the type), sweet and juicy.
The origin of its name derives from German: kohl=cabbage, rabi=turnip. But it isn’t really a hybrid of the two. The name was perhaps given because the vegetable belongs to the cabbage lineage, but looks like a turnip or a similar bulb. But that too is misleading, because the kohlrabi is neither a root nor a bulb, but rather a thickened stem.
The geographic distances the kohlrabi has traveled over the years wouldn’t shame the most frequent flyer. Like the rest of its family, the kohlrabi’s ancestor is the wild cabbage, or curly cabbage, whose origins are quite ancient. In the first century, Roman agronomists and cooks wrote about it. Roman Emperor Karl the Great demanded that kohlrabi be planted in his kingdom. From Europe it traveled to North India in the 17th century, where it became a main component of the Hindu diet. From there, our vegetable migrated to Northern Africa, the Middle East, China and Africa, and later to the United States–specifically, to the southern kitchen. To this day, kohlrabi is a main favorite in Indian, Asian, German and Hungarian cookbooks.
The kohlrabi is speedier than the rest of his family, because we don’t have to wait for the plant to flower in order to get to the edible part (like the cauliflower or broccoli) or for the leaves to close (like the cabbage.) As a matter of fact, the kohlrabi should be picked early, when it hasn’t yet matured. A big kohlrabi means it was picked too late, and its texture is liable to be fibrous. This is also the reason you occasionally receive tiny kohlrabies. Sometimes the winter halts their growth, but a longer wait would have harmed the juicy, crispy texture, which is why they are picked small. The good news is that small-sized kohlrabis do not have to be peeled, as their skin is very soft and delicate.
Kohlrabi can be eaten in any form. It is customary to eat it raw, but it’s delicious grilled or roasted in the oven or on an outdoor grill. It is super tasty when cooked or steamed, not only in soup, but stir-fried in butter or baked with salt, white pepper and sage. Kohlrabi can even be pickled. In Chinese-food recipes, it can substitute for radish or turnips and for water chestnuts. Its leaves are similar in taste to kale and can be used similarly and added to soup, pasta sauces and stir-fries. The stems are hard and unusable. Take a peek at our recipe section to get ideas of non-conventional ways to use kohlrabi.
Health-wise, the kohlrabi possesses all the medical merits of the Cruciferae family. It is an outstanding source of Vitamin C (one cup of sliced kohlrabi supplies the recommended daily portion), and like the cauliflower, is a great source of nutritional fiber. Kohlrabi also contains high levels of potassium, folic acid and calcium. In folk medicine it is considered to cleanse the blood and kidneys, as well as being beneficial for the lymphatic system and for digestion. Nissim Krispil writes of Moroccan Jews who make kohlrabi and honey juice to remedy hoarseness and congestion. In natural medicine, kohlrabi is mixed with other vegetables to make a juice to treat asthma, improve lung function, sinus problems and the thyroid gland. Adding carrot juice will improve the taste of kohlrabi juice.
So the kohlrabi is picked young, in some seasons less than two months after being planted. But it is in fact a bi-seasonal vegetable, meaning that in order to arrive at a complete growth cycle climaxed by seed production, it must undergo two growing seasons. In between is a rest period, or “incubation,” after which it will flower and produce seeds over the following springtime.
Being a winter vegetable, Kohlrabi favors a cool climate. We try to lengthen the season as much as possible and begin planting it at the end of August. But we’re always plagued by doubts whether it’s the right time, as the first round of kohlrabi in our fields finds itself trying to battle the end of summer heat. When the poor vegetable suffers heat stress, it is more vulnerable to insects and other problems. The white fly is a most annoying tiny aphid that is very fond of kohlrabi and loves climbing all over it.
The white fly has a special passion for the brassicas, literally strangling them with love. It situates itself on their leaves, accompanied by its very-extended-family, and totally blackens their faces. The pest is nurtured by the plant and weakens it, while secreting large quantities of honeydew, a sticky sugary substance that attracts the sooty mold fungi which covers the leaves in black and decreases their ability to undergo photosynthesis. When this hits the kohlrabi, the result is white tasteless fruit and a very small yield. (Thankfully, we haven’t encountered that yet this year…)
The good news is that as the temperatures plunge, the fly becomes lethargic, and thus the later-growing rounds are much less infested. Our little friend must be snuggling tight under its winter slumber covers. The current kohlrabi yield is quite fine, and the vegetables are green, juicy and delicious. We are now harvesting our cool-rabi, so welcome it with due respect and make room for it on your plates. That kohlrabi overcame a great deal to reach your homes and gladden your hearts and bellies.
The Chubeza family sends our warmest wishes to Majdi, his wife Saffa, their two daughters and the whole family on the birth of their beautiful son (who resembles his mom to a T!)
May only happiness and love shower our days. May this week be a calm, wet one!
Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Orin and the entire Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Fresh white or purple onions, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, celery/leeks/scallions, garden peas or snow peas/green fava beans/potatoes/sweet potatoes/zucchini, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, fennel, beets/kohlrabi.
Large box, in addition: Swiss chard/kale/ spinach, parsley/dill, baby radishes/daikon/cabbage.
FRUIT BOXES: Oranges/pomelas/pomelit, red apples, avocados, bananas, clementinas.
Wednesday: Fresh white or purple onions, totsoi /Swiss chard/kale/ spinach, broccoli/cabbage, lettuce, carrots, celery or celeriac/ leeks/scallions, garden peas or snow peas/green fava beans/potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets/kohlrabi.
Large box, in addition: Parsley/coriander/dill, fennel, baby radishes/daikon/turnips.
FRUIT BOXES: Oranges/pomelas/pomelit, red apples, avocados, bananas, clementinas.