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Kohlrabi: the unsung hero of the early summer garden

In the weeks before midsummer, salad greens, rhubarb, radishes and spring turnips brighten farmers market stalls at the Carlton County Farmers Market. When the longest days of the year arrive, so does a delicious but underrecognized vegetable: kohlrabi.

Of all the vegetables sold at the market (with the possible exception of horseradish), kohlrabi is the one that inspires the most questions. What is that? How do you cook it? Can I grow it in my garden?

To answer these questions, the Cloquet market is offering kohlrabi samples, recipes and growing tips Saturday, July 1, starting at 9 a.m.

The name “kohlrabi” comes from the German word “kohl” meaning cabbage and “rabi” meaning turnip, and that’s a nice description of its taste and uses. The edible part is the round, green stem that looks like a bulb. Strong leaves curl around the bulb in scalloped rows and make a nice carrying handle.

To use kohlrabi, the protective outer skin needs to be peeled off. The interior has a crisp, juicy texture and a mild, sweet cabbage taste.

Kelly and John Lenkowski of Farm Sol are big fans. The most common way they eat kohlrabi at the farm is “peeled and sliced with no accompaniment. It is also great with any salad dressing or dip,” John said.

Kohlrabi can be cooked, too. Farmers market members Mike and Georgia Guite like to simmer it and add it to mashed potatoes. It can be stir-fried, sauteed and roasted. The leaves can be used like collards or mature kale.

Kohlrabi can be grown throughout the season on a farm or in a home garden.

“The main reason we love growing kohlrabi is that other than the odd root maggot, it is about the only brassica that the spring pests don’t devour. We’re looking at you, salad turnips and bok choy,” John said.

Here at Hay Creek Hill Century Farm, I start my first crop in mid-April under grow lights and transplant it into the garden under row cover a few weeks later.

If you’re looking to add a new vegetable to your garden or table that is easy to use, well-suited to growing in northern Minnesota and tasty to boot, you can’t go wrong with kohlrabi.

Gail Olson of Hay Creek Hill Century Farm is the Cloquet site manager for the Carlton County Farmers Market and a Minnesota Farmers Market Association board member. The Cloquet Farmers Market runs 9 a.m. to noon every Saturday in front of Premiere Theatres, 904 Hwy 33 S., Cloquet. The Carlton market is open every Tuesday from 4 to 6 p.m. in McFarland Park, Hwy 210 and Grand.

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