Kohlrabi!

For some reason, my kids find the name “kohlrabi” hysterically funny – they even invented a creature called the kohlrabi monster that lived in our basement and attacked little children who went down there alone, particularly those children that didn’t eat their vegetables. (Now that the basement is finished, he rarely makes an appearance, though.)

Kohlrabi comes from the brassica family, which also includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and collards, and is the swollen stem of the plant. As you might expect, it has a slightly cabbage-y taste, but in its younger forms it is mild and sweet. It can be slice thinly and eaten raw, but I prefer it cooked. It makes a great substitute for broccoli stems  – try it in Broccoli Stem Stirfry and Stirfried Pork with Bamboo Shoots & Broccoli Stems.

Better yet, kohlrabi makes a great substitute for water chestnuts – an ingredient that I often omit from my recipes because I prefer not to buy ingredients that are processed and/or imported from too far away. Try adding some finely diced raw kohlrabi to the filling for Pork & Cabbage Dumplings – it will remain slightly crunchy when the dumplings are cooked.

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These are Turnips?

I have tried to like turnips for a very long time, but I just can’t seem to find a way to cook them that is pleasing. But just recently I realized it’s not the cooking method I should change – it’s the turnip! I’ve recently discovered Hakurei turnips (read more about them on Kitazawa Seed Company‘s site).

Turns out these turnips are great just scrubbed, sliced, and salted (thanks to Jennifer at Capella Farm for that advice!) or added to a green salad in place of radishes.

But the great discovery was that you can use them anywhere you can use daikon: try them in any of the recipes on this blog that use daikon – the spicy daikon and carrot salad is great with this substitution!

The greens can also be stirfried – try the recipe for stirfried greens – they have a nice radishy bite!

ETA: Rumor has it you can also use them as a substitute for water chestnuts – I’m always happy to find a locally-grown substitute for an ingredient that I would otherwise have to buy in a can!

Stirfried Greens

Lots of greens are in season just now – kale, chard, collards, spinach. Here’s a quick stirfry recipe for just about any variety of sturdier greens. For the more tender types (spinach, water spinach, amaranth) check out the Recipes page for specific cooking instructions.

ingredients:

  • 1 bunch greens – any of the sturdier varieties mentioned above
  • 1 T oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • salt to taste

method:

  1. Bring about 2″ of water to a boil.
  2. While this water comes to a boil, soak the greens in cool water, then remove the greens, drain the water, and repeat.
  3. Chop the greens coarsely, then soak one more time – there should be no grit on the bottom of the bowl or sink.
  4. Blanch and shock the greens – they should be bright green and crisp-tender – then gently squeeze out as much water as possible.
  5. Heat a wok over medium-high, then add the oil, just until it shimmers.
  6. Explode the garlic until fragrant – do not let it brown – then add the greens and stirfry just until tender.
  7. Season to taste and serve.

variation:

If you prefer to use less water and spend more time chopping, you can skip the blanch and shock step: separate the leaves from the stems and chop each separately in step 3.  After exploding the garlic, add the stem pieces, stirfrying until bright green, then add the leaves, stirfrying until crisp-tender. Season and serve.

Broccoli Stem Stirfry

If you tend to have leftover broccoli stems, don’t toss them! We tend to use the crowns down to the main stem for a green vegetable with western meals, but that leaves us with quite a lot of long stems. These can be cut into “matchsticks” and stirfried into a delicious vegetable (or meat) dish.

ingredients:

  • 3-4 broccoli stems
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • salt, to taste

method:

  1. Peel the broccoli stems and  cut into 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″ matchsticks.
  2. Cut the bell pepper into 1/4″ dice.
  3. Heat the wok over medium-high heat, then add the oil just until it shimmers.
  4. Add the garlic and explode just until fragrant.
  5. Add the broccoli and red pepper and stirfry just until crisp-tender, approximately 2-3 m.
  6. Season to taste, then serve.

variation:

  • If you want to use some meat in this dish, a bit of diced bacon or ham cut into strips makes a nice addition. If you use bacon, you should cook the bacon first, then remove it to drain some of the fat. You can either use the bacon fat to stirfry the vegetables or dump it out and use oil. If you use ham, add it at the very end of the cooking process, just to heat it through. In either case, you’ll need to use less salt.

Stirfried Pork with Bamboo Shoots & Broccoli Stems

I generally try to buy local, fresh ingredients, but once in a while we will buy something more exotic, such as bamboo shoots. If you live near an Asian market, look for the vacuum-sealed packages – the bamboo won’t carry the taste of the can with it. If you want to stick with local ingredients, omit the bamboo and double the amount of broccoli stems – this is a great recipe for using up those tasty leftovers from dishes that just require the florets. Looking for something vegetarian or vegan? Substitute pressed or baked tofu for the pork. Want a quick veggie stirfy – omit the port entirely.

ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb pork – look for less lean chops, preferably from pastured pigs – cut into 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″ shreds
  • 2 T oil
  • 1 T fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 oz cooked bamboo shoot, cut into matchsticks approximately 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″
  • 4 oz broccoli stems, peeled and cut into matchsticks approximately 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″
  • salt, to taste

marinade:

method:

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a small bowl, add the pork shreds and combine thoroughly, allowing to rest 15-30 m. Drain off excess marinade.
  2. Heat the wok over medium high heat, then add 1 T oil, heating just until it shimmers.
  3. Explode the ginger and garlic just until fragrant, then add the pork shreds and stirfry quickly just until no longer pink. Remove to a plate.
  4. Add the other 1 T oil, heating just until it shimmers, then stirfry the bamboo shoots and broccoli stem pieces just until crisp-tender.
  5. Add the pork back to the wok, stirfry quickly to combine.
  6. Season to taste, and serve.

Braised Winter Vegetables

Although the original recipe calls for potatoes, carrots, and Chinese cabbage, a variety of vegetables would work well in this dish. The finished dish has a sort of sweet and sour flavor – you can play with the amount of sugar and the amount and type of vinegar to get the flavor you like best. Black vinegar will affect the color but has a stronger, almost smoky flavor. Rice vinegar will make it milder and will not change the color of the dish. Use a waxy variety of potato rather than a starchy baking potato – we like Yukon Golds for this.

ingredients:

  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T vinegar, either rice wine or black
  • 1 T raw cane sugar, or to taste
  • 1 c water, stock or broth
  • 1/4 lb carrots, peeled and cut into approximately 1/2 x 1/2 x 2″ lengths
  • 1/4 lb stem ends of bok choy or the core of a napa cabbage, cut into 1/2 x 2″ lengths
  • 1/2 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into approximately 1/2 x 1/2 x 2″ lengths
  • 2 T oil
  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 slice fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil, or to taste

method:

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil, blanch the carrots; then blanch and shock the cabbage separately and set them aside.
  2. While the water boils for the carrots and cabbage, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and water in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Heat the wok over medium high, add 1 T oil just until it shimmers.
  4. Add the potatoes and stirfry just until lightly browned in places, then remove from the wok and set them aside.
  5. Add 1 T oil to the wok and again heat just until it shimmers – it’s fine if there are bits of potato stuck to the wok.
  6. Explode the scallion, garlic and ginger just until fragrant.
  7. Add the vinegar mixture, bring to a boil, then add the vegetables to the wok. When the liquid returns to a simmer, keep the heat low and braise just until the vegetables are the doneness you prefer.
  8. Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt, vinegar, and sugar, then drizzle with sesame oil before serving.

Braised Cabbage

Well, the pickings are pretty slim for Chinese vegetables in Michigan in the winter – so bad that every time we cook Chinese food, my daughter groans, “bok choy agaaaaaaaain?!?” I do miss the Asian vendors at the Torrance Farmers’ Market, but we’re making do with napa and bok choy, which seem to be the only Asian produce most non-Asian stores here stock.

This recipe can be made with either napa or bok choy, although I prefer the crinkly napa for this one – it makes for an almost soup-like, warming winter dish. Want it heartier? Use a homemade chicken stock or broth. Want it vegan? Use water or vegetable stock – you may want to adjust the seasoning a bit in that case. Romaine or even iceberg lettuce is also a good vegetable to use for this dish!

ingredients:

  • 1 lb napa cabbage
  • 1 T oil
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 tsp fermented black beans, optional
  • 2 c broth, water, or stock

method:

  1. Break the cabbage leaves apart and soak in cool water – rinse and repeat if it’s particularly sandy.
  2. Heat the oil in the wok until it shimmers, then explode the scallions just until fragrant – don’t brown them!
  3. Add the cabbage leaves just until coated with oil and barely wilted.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients, cover lightly and simmer just until the cabbbage is tender. If you cover too tightly or cook it too long, the color will be very drab. Adjust the seasoning and serve.