Sunday, July 16, 2006

how do you solve a problem like kohlrabi?

I got lucky with my hubby: We share many of the same inclinations when it comes to architecture, archaeology, theology, politics, and how to make the best use of nap time.

But we don’t eat eye-to-eye.

I was raised a hippie and love the whole foods; he was raised Nebraskan and loves his meat and potatoes.

Friends who knew something about the way I used to cook before I moved to the Midwest (lamb tagine with meyer lemons and kalamatas; fresh oysters served with horseradish and Tabasco alongside home-seasoned sausage patties and a crisp green salad [try it: you’ll be amazed]; roasted tomatoes stuffed with basil, garlic, bread crumbs and anchovies and served over cold rice; odd concoctions with swiss chard; anything with arugula) would be surprised to see the compromises I arrive at now in an effort to keep everyone happy: Meals like free-range turkey brats with fresh-off-the-cob creamed corn (yep: I’m not making this up), and anything that incorporates the holy veggie trinity of Midwestern cuisine: corn, potatoes and beans. (Salade Niçoise accommodates the combo pretty well.)

Enter the Green Earth Institute. We signed up this year for a CSA subscription – that means that we pay a flat fee at the beginning of the summer and every couple of weeks we pick up a big bushel of veggies.

The selection of which we have no say in whatsoever.

But they’re always fresh and just this side of amazing.

I love the surprise part of the equation. But it introduces some challenges – because not once yet this summer have corn or beans been in the mix. Sugar peas so sweet you could eat ‘em like candy have been in the bag; but no beans.

And the last couple of weeks, kohlrabi has been waiting for us.

This veggie is entirely new to me. It’s not really a root vegetable – it grows above ground and looks like the lovechild of a cabbage and a turnip. And I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know WHAT the hell to do with it.

Googling recipes was fruitless. Lotta sautéed in butter or mustard recipes that would make more sense in wintertime. My favorite online standbys – the Saveur and Epicurious recipe databases – came up mostly empty on the subject of kohlrabi (unless I felt like german-style stuffed kohlrabi. I didn't. Still don't.)

So I had to take matters into my own hands. Inspiration struck last week when I pulled out a recipe that had run the Sunday before in the NYT Magazine and had all the makings of Midwestern contentment: Clementine’s Tuna-Macaroni Salad. (The things a girl will do for love.) But when I got around to making it I realized I was missing celery and scallions – and the idea of a glutinous mass of mayo slathered macaroni with tuna and cheese and not a crispy, spicy bit in sight really got me down.

In kohlrabi lay my celery salvation. Diced up nice and tiny it's all crispy with just a little bit of heat. And for scallions: I substituted this funky curly flowery spur that’s trimmed off of garlic before it comes into its own. (Pic provided below for edification – but don’t even ask me to tell you what it’s called. It was in the CSA bag. That's all I know.)

Here’s the NYT’s recipe – I’ve struck out ingredients and penciled in my own where I made substitutions.

Clementine's Tuna-Macaroni Salad

  • Salt

  • 1/2 pound uncooked elbow macaroni penne pasta

  • 1/2 cup 1/4 -inch diced celery kohlrabi

  • 2 ounces sharp Cheddar, cut into 1/4 -inch cubes (I used coarsely shredded parmesan because I had some around)

  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions funky garlic-y thing-y

  • 1/4 cup sliced cornichon rounds

  • 2 tablespoons mild Tennessee chow chow (optional) didn’t happen

  • 1 cup mayonnaise (happily got away with about half that much)

  • 2 6-ounce cans chunk light tuna in water, drained Freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • 1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook. Drain and cool completely.

    2. In a large bowl, fold together the macaroni with the remaining ingredients.

    Serves 6. Adapted from Clementine in Los Angeles.
    Note: Chow chow is available at

    Figured out another application for kohlrabi tonight, when I just didn’t feel like making anything interesting (90 degrees w/ 90% humidity always brings out the slug in me) so I pulled out some frozen buffalo patties and cooked up a couple of burgers: It makes a nice substitute for an onion slice. Kind of a funky, crunchy jicama and radish hybrid.

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