Fearn Smith's Kohlrabi Salad
June 24, 2010
With deepest apologies to William Carlos Williams:
This is just to say
I have eaten the kohlrabi
that was in the icebox
we were planning
to eat just like that
[plain and peeled]
Forgive the hyperbole but
[so crisp so cool]
is the only way I'll ever eat it again
Now the truth is, I grew up eating kohlrabi and I love it, indeed, just peeled and sliced thickly, munched over the cutting board, cool slices feeling rough against my tongue. But this salad lets kohlrabi come in from running around naked in the sprinklers and dresses it up, gives it some clothes, a clean pair of shoes, a whiff of sophistication, subtle sweetness and spice. If you've never tried kohlrabi before, seek some out (your local farmer's market certainly has the pale green knobs lying around on a table somewhere) to make this. I promise it will become a summer staple at your table.
So much so that your children will grow up thinking of kohlrabi like they do of carrots, always around. You will forget the time that came before, when kohlrabi was just some strange and foreign root you didn't know how to pronounce. Those of you with gardens, maybe it will even prompt you to become kohlrabi farmers. This salad is capable of all that and more. (If your kohlrabi come with the greens attached, try this recipe. It sounds delicious.)
The recipe comes from Ivy Manning's Farm to Table Cookbook and originally included pea shoots, which are one of those things I could rarely ever find in New York, let alone Berlin. So I left out the pea shoots and instead put in a couple of Thai bird chilis. There's something about the dressing and the sweet crunchy vegetable batons that needs that floral heat, just a little bit.
I love how subtle the salad is, how refreshing and clean. The fennel seed and the sesame oil combine to mysterious effect: as you crunch your way through the salad, you keep asking yourself, "what's in this thing?" and then, "I need more." Before you know it, you're ripping off famous poets to declare your love for salad. It's okay. The kohlrabi made you do it.
2 medium red or green kohlrabi bulbs
1 large carrot, peeled
1 teaspoon fennel seed or 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small garlic clove, pressed (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 to 2 Thai bird chilis (optional), minced
1. With a sharp chef’s knife, peel the tough outer skin and cut the stems from the kohlrabi. Julienne the kohlrabi with a mandoline or sharp knife (you will have about 4 cups), and then julienne the carrot.
2. If using whole fennel seed, toast the fennel seeds in a small dry sauté pan over medium heat until they begin to brown slightly and smell toasty. Transfer them to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, and grind them into a coarse powder.
3. Combine the ground fennel seed, vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic and chilis, if using. Slowly whisk in the two oils. Pour over the vegetables and toss to coat. Taste for salt. Serve.