Kohlrabi Turnip Gratin

by Meeta Wolff

This chapter is a free excerpt from What's For Lunch, Honey?.

Quite some time back, Tom's professor told us about a simple and spiritual recluse he found on a vacation in a monastery. He spent a week leading a monastic life in total silence. I was fairly intrigued and contemplated the idea. Well, life is stressful enough, right? Long working hours, financial worries, family obligations, not to mention an overbooked social calendar...all add up to an extremely busy life, often devoid of proper rest and sleep, and full of worry and weariness. We take vacations to get away from it all—on cruises or in resorts in faraway places, but often we end up wrapping ourselves in the vacation hectic and stress. Not everyone has the ability to wind down, and rarely do we find pure relaxation.

As I consider the idea of vacationing in a monastery, I discover more and more the benefits that will help me and us as a family to deal with our daily lives on a better scale. For my part, I’ve made an effort to appreciate the simple gifts that are given to our kitchens each season, incorporating those into flavorful and versatile dishes that don’t require fuss to match up with your main course. This recipe came together using the lovely produce winter supplies. A kohlrabi turnip gratin: a side that pairs up with almost everything, be it lamb, pork, beef or poultry.

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Quite some time back, Tom's professor told us about a simple and spiritual recluse he found on a vacation in a monastery. He spent a week leading a monastic life in total silence. I was fairly intrigued and contemplated the idea. Well, life is stressful enough, right? Long working hours, financial worries, family obligations, not to mention an overbooked social calendar...all add up to an extremely busy life, often devoid of proper rest and sleep, and full of worry and weariness. We take vacations to get away from it all—on cruises or in resorts in faraway places, but often we end up wrapping ourselves in the vacation hectic and stress. Not everyone has the ability to wind down, and rarely do we find pure relaxation.

As I consider the idea of vacationing in a monastery, I discover more and more the benefits that will help me and us as a family to deal with our daily lives on a better scale. For my part, I’ve made an effort to appreciate the simple gifts that are given to our kitchens each season, incorporating those into flavorful and versatile dishes that don’t require fuss to match up with your main course. This recipe came together using the lovely produce winter supplies. A kohlrabi turnip gratin: a side that pairs up with almost everything, be it lamb, pork, beef or poultry.

The word kohlrabi is derived from the German words for kohl, which means cabbage, and rabi is from rübe, meaning turnip. Kohlrabi can be an intimidating vegetable if you have not been around it much—which is likely, as it is not a commonly used vegetable in American cuisine. Although the kohlrabi bulbs look like they were dug up from the earth, in actual fact the round bulb is a swollen stem that grows above ground. These sputnik-shaped vegetables taste like fresh, crunchy broccoli stems accented by radish. They come in green (which is more readily available) or violet, and can be eaten raw or cooked. One can also use the leaves of the kohlrabi much like one would do spinach, chard or other greens.

In this gratin I pair kohlrabi with turnip, add a hint of whole seed Dijon mustard and a glug of cream, and then bake in the oven until it's bubbling in creamy juices. It’s a basic and simple dish but with a lot of big time flavor. The sharp tangy flavor of the mustard pairs beautifully with the wine and the richness of the cream intermingles throughout, rounding it off wonderfully.

Selecting, Storing and Preparation 

Choose kohlrabi with fresh-looking leaves, bright, even color and no soft spots or cracks. Bulbs the size of a peach or smaller yield best texture and flavor. My recommendation? Go for organic kohlrabi—you'll notice the flavor difference!

Kohlrabi can be refrigerated in loosely sealed plastic bags for several days. If leaves show signs of decline and begin to wilt, discard them before storing.

To prepare kohlrabi trim the stalks and the leaves. If the leaves are not going to be used discard. If you would like to enjoy kohlrabi raw simply peel the root to expose the white inner flesh, then cut as desired. I pack kohlrabi sticks in Soeren's lunch box with a simple herb flavored quark. Slice, dice, or grate kohlrabi and add to salads, use on raw vegetable platters or substitute in recipes calling for radishes.

Kohlrabi is an extremely versatile vegetable and can be cooked in a number of ways.
  • Bake in a covered dish with a few tablespoons of liquid at approx. 170-180ºC (338-356ºF) for 50-60 minutes.
  • Boil or steam covered for about 30-35 minutes.
  • Microwave whole trimmed kohlrabies in covered dish with a few tablespoons of liquid, 6-9 minutes.
  • Sauté shredded peeled kohlrabi; first sprinkle with salt and let sit 30 minutes, then squeeze water out.

Helpful Notes:

  • Chop leaves and freeze to use in pasta dishes or soups.
  • The fresh leaves can be used much like other greens in salads or lightly blanched.
  • Peel kohlrabi after they have been cooked.

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200ºC (392ºF).
  1. Place crème fraiche and white wine in a large pan and gently simmer for 2-4 minutes. Season with sea salt and cracked pepper, then add the mustard.
  1. Add the vegetable slices and cook for approx. 5 minutes. If using add some of the bacon and stir to incorporate, leaving some for the top.
  1. Transfer the vegetable mix into a gratin dish and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and bubbling.
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