In response to our favourite vegetable giveaway (Kitchen Garden, September 8), Jenny Andrews of Aranda wrote, "Months ago we had lunch with some German friends, cooked by the very tall blond man of the family. It was a beautiful meal. We had grilled chicken accompanied by three vegetable dishes - one was a spicy mixture of tomatoes and red capsicums, another was lightly steamed green beans and the third was a mysterious white concoction whose flavour, delicate and intriguing, I did not recognise."
The dish was a salad of kohlrabi and we have tracked down the recipe.
Until that moment, Jenny had never tasted kohlrabi, dismissing it as "one of those unacceptable survival foods that northern Europeans were reduced to in their long winters." Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea Gongylodes group) comes in two colours, white/pale green or purple. Corms are best eaten young, up to the size of a tennis ball. It is also grown in abundance near Dal Lake, Kashmir.
As for the dull vegetable, it is the highlight of Jenny's spring garden and her favourite vegetable from the brassica family. I asked for a photo of the first one harvested and being cut for the kitchen. When the photo arrived last week I complained that Jenny's face was too shaded. Her response, "Actually, having a lot of shade on my face is the idea - I normally think of myself as young and fresh, until I have to look at a photo!"
Her kohlrabi is not a one-veg wonder. Jenny is currently growing and harvesting cauliflowers, broccoli, leeks, parsnips, turnips and swedes, spring onions, garlic, English spinach, broad beans, snow peas, sugar snap peas, lettuces both red and green, bok choy, rocket and herbs.
The eight little kohlrabi seedlings were purchased during autumn at Jenny's favourite plant stall at Jamison Trash and Treasure market. Though I have mentioned kohlrabi in Kitchen Garden columns in the past, it has never previously been a main feature. However in September 2017 I wrote about Heather Kerr of Hughes and her father Jim Kerr of Macquarie and they sold kohlrabi on their stall at Jamison markets - could they have supplied Jenny?
Unless you grow your own, this is the tail-end of the kohlrabi season and I checked with Choku Bai Jo in Curtin and Wiffens at Fyshwick Markets and both are out of stock. I have also seen it for sale at the Pialligo Estate Farm Shop.
Aranda is notoriously devoid of any form of soil, says Jenny, it is just broken up shale and leaf litter, so all of her garden beds are raised. Over the years she has filled them with compost, plus horse manure from the racecourse, so the soil is now quite rich and deep.
In the fruit department there are berries - strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, thornless blackberries and black currants as well as fruit trees, pruned rather low so they can be netted against the birds. There are peaches, nectarines, blood plums, apricots and a prune tree plus citrus - lemons , limes and cumquats.
The rest of the garden is natural bushland. It was part of a farm in the early days of European settlement but was never cleared. Jenny treats it as a landcare/conservation project. It even has native orchids. I chuckled to receive a photo of the "elderly scarecrow" who oversees the whole garden.
With the first kohlrabi in the kitchen, half of it was being used in Yotam Ottolenghi's salad recipe, (from Jerusalem: The Cookbook, 2012, written with Sami Tamimi) which follows. The other half is being served as a side dish with lamb shanks, sliced into strips and fried gently in butter, to bring out their delicate flavour.
Ottolenghi's kohlrabi salad
- 3 medium kohlrabies
- 1/3 cup Greek yoghurt
- 5 tbsp sour cream
- 3 tbsp mascarpone cheese
- 1 small, crushed garlic clove
- 1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp finely shredded fresh mint
- 1 tsp dried mint
- handful of baby watercress (or mixed baby salad leaves)
- 1/4 tsp sumac powder
- salt and white pepper to taste
1. Peel the kohlrabies and chop into 1.5cm dice. Place in a bowl.
2. Make dressing in a separate bowl: combine yoghurt, sour cream, mascarpone, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Add pinch salt and pepper. Whisk the dressing until smooth.
3. Gently stir into the chopped kohlrabies, mix in the fresh and dried mint and half the watercress (baby green leaves).
4. Taste salad and add extra seasoning if needed, and lemon juice and garlic but don't overdo it. Pile salad on a serving dish, sprinkle sumac over it and top with the remaining watercress/baby greens.
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