Wednesday, July 31, 2013

And The Secret Ingredient Is ... Kohlrabi!

I do love a challenge, particularly when food is involved.  The experience of fulfilling the challenge is gratifying and, very often, a lesson in broadening my horizons as I flirt with the fine line of my comfort zone.  Who am I kidding?  The kitchen IS my comfort zone!  At least, however, I gain the knowledge in how to prepare that one dish or work with that one ingredient that I have not previously embarked upon, to boldly go and cook what I have not cooked before.  Case in point: kohlrabi.  No, not call Robbie.  Cook kohlrabi.

I was making my weekly shopping excursion to my neighborhood farm stand, the Pumpkin Patch.  As you can read here, they know me there.  I'm the girl who wrote a blog post about them and touted my heartfelt belief that they are in fact the best farm stand that I have frequented (read the post and you'll quickly understand why).  They also know me as the one who buys produce and local edibles by the basketful every week.  I am often asked, "So what are you cooking tonight?"  A couple of weeks ago, as I hoisted a second full basket onto the counter for tallying, one of the owners gestured toward one of the display tables and queried me, "Have you made anything with kohlrabi?"  Wow, I thought, he did not just ask me that.  I had actually been faced with the dilemma of pondering a vegetable with which I was unfamiliar.  "I've heard of it," I began, and then I sheepishly had to admit that no, I actually have not.  To that, he responded with a grin and said, "Well, what are you waiting for?" and sauntered off to arrange more vegetables.  His daughter's eyes met mine as she continued to tally and I declared to her "I think I've just been challenged!" With a grin, she nodded in agreement.

Well now.  I am not one to refuse a foodie challenge, as long as insects are not involved; I draw the line on insects.  They may be a delicacy on the other side of the world, but I shall refrain; folks there are welcome to them.  This, however, should not be difficult.  After all, kohlrabi is just another vegetable.  I set about contemplating how I was going to serve up the fibrous produce.  First, I learned that kohlrabi can best be described as a cabbage turnip. A member of the turnip family, it is a bulbous specimen whose flavors seem to emulate the cross of a cabbage and a turnip, its outer surface taking on either a pale green or slightly purple hue.  I decided to embrace the so-called cabbage-like aspect and run with that for a take on a summer classic.

When I returned to the stand for the following week's shopping spree, my challenger wasn't on the premises.  His wife was, however, and she promptly informed me that they just got in Swiss chard.  Hmm.  What is this, stump the Cat?  I am suddenly being accosted with our own little reality match of Iron Chef Vegetable.  I laughed and informed her that I had already been challenged by her husband with kohlrabi, to which I accepted the game play as my self-enrichment culinary study for this week.  We both laughed, because I think she knows pretty well that I am enjoying this.

On Sunday, while Brian lost himself in the Internet world, I took up my Santoku knife and took over the prep counter to create this kohlrabi slaw.

Kohlrabi Slaw with Apples and Sunflower Seeds
2 bulbs kohlrabi, peeled
4 carrots, peeled
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and cored
1 bunch scallions, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
1/4-cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons whole grain mustard (I like Maille)
1/2-teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/3 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds

Cut the kohlrabi, carrots and apple into matchsticks and toss them in a serving bowl with the scallions.  In a smaller bowl or a glass measuring cup, whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper until blended.  Pour over the kohlrabi mixture and toss to mix and coat evenly.  At serving time, sprinkle the sunflower seeds over the top.
Serves 4.

This slaw is a healthy alternative to the heavier mayonnaise-laden classic Cole slaw.  It pairs well with grilled chicken, duck, fish steaks or pork chops.

I am envisioning a soup that welcomes kohlrabi into the pot for cooler months.  Still only halfway through summer and having just survived a record-breaking heat wave, I think that I'll put off that creation experiment for September.  My idea for this involves Yukon gold potatoes, kohlrabi, chicken-apple sausages and kale ... to be continued this fall.  First, I must ponder the possibilities of Swiss chard.  I do love a challenge.  Next!

Food for Thought
When scorching summer days leave you feeling sluggish, make a simple dinner by arranging bowls and platters with tasty nibbles that require minimal to no cooking.  Pick up some salad ingredients from your local farm stand to make two or three simple salads that can be prepared ahead.  Add a bowl or two of store-bought edibles, such as olives or nuts.  Round out the spread simply with sliced cheese and a loaf of artisan bread.  Then just pour a glass of wine and let everyone help themselves.  This concept served us well the other day when I was pressed with writing deadlines.  One of the salads was my roast pepper salad.  I also made an easy heirloom cherry tomato salad with fresh basil and toasted pignoli nuts and the third was sautéed sugar snap peas with red onion, pancetta and pecorino Romano cheese.  The cheese was a locally produced fresh mozzarella and the wine was from a local vineyard.  All of the necessary ingredients of this meal were obtained from Macari Vineyards, Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace and the Pumpkin Patch farmstand.  Take it easy this summer and support your local farmers and artisans.  Save the heavy and labor-intensive cooking projects for the winter months.

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