Life has taught me to expect very little from February, the worst month, but this one has been especially bad. It's important to savour the bright spots as they crop up, even the tiny ones. Although this month has been riddled with crises on the micro and macro scales, I finally got to eat kohlrabi pizza after weeks and weeks of plotting. It was the highlight of my February.
All photos by A.A. Newton.
Kohlrabi is a weird-looking root vegetable that gets nowhere near the praise it deserves. Like other members of the Brassica oleracea species, it's a cabbage cultivar bred to maximise certain characteristics - in this case, a round, chubby stem - and can therefore be grown more or less year-round. It's a hardy crop that's delicate in both texture and flavour; a rare combination that makes it a favourite ingredient in cuisines the world over, particularly Kashmiri and German. (My Austrian stepdad grew up eating kohlrabi and was so excited when my mum got a box full of giant purple ones; she'd never seen one before in her life.)
Depending on your location, kohlrabi is nearly always "in season," but it's rarely stocked at your average supermarket. I found mine at an Asian grocery with an especially good produce section.
My beautiful, special boys.
If you've never tasted a kohlrabi before, imagine a daikon radish wearing a broccoli-stem suit. Flavour-wise, it's closest to the latter, but sweeter and milder. Like broccoli stems, kohlrabi's fibrous skin doesn't soften much when cooked, but peel it away and you'll find crisp, juicy, daikon-like flesh that lends itself to a diverse range of culinary applications.
If you're lucky, yours might come with a big tuft of leaves, which you can - and should - use just like collards or kale. Kohlrabi greens have the broccoli flavour of rapini with none of the hardcore bitterness, and I was bummed that mine came with just a few tiny leaves each.
Predictably, kohlrabi pickles well and makes a great slaw, but those who love radishes and broccoli stems know that roasting makes them sing. Kohlrabi, being relatively sweet, totally transforms in the oven. The edges caramelize, the interior turns soft and tender, and the flavour concentrates into something far sweeter and more complex than you'd expect.
Perhaps this is what led Sarah Minnick, the freshly James Beard-nominated head chef of Lovely's Fifty-Fifty restaurant, to start putting roasted chunks of kohlrabi on her pizzas: "It's basically the most tropical flavour since pineapple," she said in a recent Instagram post. I've thought about kohlrabi pizza at least once a day ever since.
My pizza preferences are as follows: red sauce is one of my love languages (in other words, most white pizzas can get lost), I prefer veggies to meat, and I'm one hundred billion per cent pro-pineapple. Since I also love kohlrabi, I couldn't wait to throw some roasted cubes onto a pizza and see if it was, well, tropical. Because I can't leave well enough alone, I decided to make a second pizza with shaved kohlrabi salad, goat cheese, and olive oil. Raw asparagus pizza is exempt from my blanket ban on white pies, and I figured kohlrabi would behave similarly.
The raw kohlrabi pie, before I doused it with cheese, herbs, and chilli oil.
My findings confirm that whether it's shaved raw or cubed and roasted, kohlrabi is absolutely delicious on pizza. Surprisingly, the pie topped with raw kohlrabi was far and away my favourite - the edges charred in the oven, which is always a plus, and the simple lemon-olive oil dressing was perfect with goat cheese. I finished it with some grated aged Gouda, cilantro, and garlic-chilli oil; my taste tester and I inhaled it.
As for the roasted cubes, they worked beautifully with the other toppings I selected (leftover walnut pesto, goat cheese, red chilies, and crimini mushrooms), but tasted nothing like pineapple in the best way. Kohlrabi is sweetest when it's very young, and I suspect that the specimens I got from an Asian supermarket in mid-February might not be quite as sweet as the locally grown, super-fresh ones Sarah Minnick uses.
A selection of toppings. The condiment in the top right is this one from S&B brand and it is life-changing.
No matter your stance on pineapple pizza, kohlrabi might just be your new favourite topping. Should you want to give it a try, you will need:
- Your favourite pizza dough recipe (try to avoid premade options which are easy but taste terrible)
- A pizza baking vessel (I use a preheated cast-iron pan)
- Sauces, cheeses, and other toppings of your choosing
- 1 small-to-medium kohlrabi per 10-12-inch pie (no more than 220g each, before peeling)
- Olive oil, salt and pepper
- Lemon juice (optional)
To prepare the kohlrabi, remove and reserve any leaves, slice off and discard the stems, and carefully cut off the root end, then use a sharp vegetable peeler to remove the skin. The Kitchn has a great tutorial on cutting up kohlrabi for visual learners.
Once you've peeled the bulbs, dice or slice your kohlrabi however you like. For the roasted topping, I cut mine into roughly ½-inch dice, tossed it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted it at 220 degrees Celsius for about 15 minutes. For the raw topping, I used my peeler to ribbon the flesh into a bowl, which I dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.
The rest is really up to you. I used the roasted cubes as I would pineapple and piled the raw salad onto an olive oil base, with nubs of goat cheese on top. Definitely tear up the leaves and add them before cooking - they get super-crispy in the oven, and I wish my kohlrabi had come with more.
I'm already planning my next kohlrabi pizza adventure. Next time, I'm definitely going for my favourite combo: pineapple (well, roasted kohlrabi), pickled jalapenos, and pepperoni with red sauce and plenty of mozzarella. As for the raw pizza, I think using a pesto base and topping it with ricotta and parmesan right out of the oven would be tight. Thankfully, there's about six pizzas worth of dough in my freezer just waiting for my next emergency - and with three days of February still to survive, I imagine it won't be long.
You know I had to bring in some homemade ranch.