Raw kohlrabi sticks have been my favourite healthy snack since early childhood. As an adult I tasted cooked kolhrabi and it was so awful, losing its refreshing crunchiness and delicate flavours, I was completely put off trying to incorporate it into any dish, even cold. When I saw Shu Han (from Mummy I can cook) make Thai salad with kolhrabi instead of the customary green papaya I found the idea extremely tempting, but then completely forgot about it. Luckily, kohlrabi is available most of the year, so it’s – almost – always a good moment to experiment.
If you have never bought kohlrabi, apparently also called “German turnip” or turnip cabbage”, it does look a bit like a big turnip, but has light green smooth skin and when you peel it and taste it, it might make you think of an extremely delicately flavoured radish (though if you wait too long after peeling, kohlrabi will start smelling a bit cabbagy). Some people cook it, but personally I think it’s the worst thing one can do with this vegetable. It loses its unusual freshness and becomes similar to any turnip really. It also loses its precious vitamin C and maybe other healthy elements too.
Shu Han made a Thai green papaya salad. I made a Vietnamese one. Both are a bit similar and probably equally good (I have never tasted the Thai version). The famous Vietnamese green papaya salad is very simple to prepare, especially if you skip, like me, dried beef and fried shallots. Just like I do when making it with green papaya (see the post here), I followed the recipe from “Vietnamese Street Food” by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl and I hope it’s at least close to the genuine thing.
While tasting this mock green papaya salad I was surprised to see how small the difference was. The kolhrabi is maybe slightly sweeter and less dense in texture, but otherwise I didn’t think it spoilt the original recipe in any way and I certainly liked it as much as the real thing. Thanks to this modification I was thrilled to use local organic vegetables instead of produce pumped with pesticides and probably also sprayed for transportation… (one of the reasons I try not to buy green papaya too often). Thank you so much, Shu Han, for this excellent idea!
TIPS: When buying kolhrabi, try to choose the one with the smoothest skin and don’t take the biggest specimens. The smaller it is and the smoothest the skin, the juicier and the crunchier it will be.
If you prepare the sauce in advance, bear in mind it becomes hotter with time. It also loses the lime’s fresh aroma, but keeps its acidity of course.
Preparation: 15 minutes
Ingredients (serves 2 as a side dish):
1 medium kolhrabi
a big handful of soybean/mung bean sprouts
3 Asian spring onions (white and whiteish parts only) or 1 Asian shallot (advised in the original recipe)
1 heaped tablespoon toasted and roughly crushed peanuts
1 heaped tablespoon fried onion/shallot (I have skipped it)
leaves from 4 branches of coriander
1 small bird’s-eye-chili, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 flat tablespoons sugar or Agave syrup
1 tablespoon fish sauce
juice from 1/2 lime
(shredded dried beef)
Peel the kohlrabi and cut it into long matchstick threads or julienne it (a julienne peeler is the best tool here).
Combine it with the sprouts (you can cut them in two), chopped spring onions and coriander leaves.
Mix the sauce ingredients and pour them over the vegetables.
Stir well, sprinkle with peanuts and serve.