Vietnamese Salad with Kohlrabi (or Mock Green Papaya Salad)

mockpapaya_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.

18 Replies to “Vietnamese Salad with Kohlrabi (or Mock Green Papaya Salad)”

  1. I’ve had green papaya before in salad, and pickled form and I liked it. I’ve never seen nor have heard of Kohlrabi and now I’m very curious. I like the simplicity of your dressing and will definitely go for Agave syrup as I always keep a bottle in my pantry. That is a nice-looking salad and just in time for spring. Wish you a good weekend ahead, Sissi. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Ray. I also love green papaya but I wish it was a more “usual” ingredient here… Kohlrabi is one of the staples of my childhood, while I discovered the taste of green papaya maybe two years ago only… Green papaya is sold here only in some Asian shops and it’s quite expensive (not to mention the “chemical” side I’ve written about…), but I do buy it from time to time.

  2. we used to eat kohlrabi when I was a child but to be honest, I don’t recall how my dear Mom prepared it and I’m pretty sure it was cooked! And I suspect it’s no coincidence that I haven’t had it in decades. I love raw vegetables and am quite excited to try kohlrabi particularly in this recipe. Green mango salad is a favourite but sourcing green mango in Toronto can be difficult so this substitution is genius! To take it a step further wouldn’t a remoulade with kohlrabi be delicious too?

    1. Thank you, Eva. Remoulade sounds like a good idea, though maybe kohlrabi might be too bland for it… I’m not surprised you haven’t had cooked kolhrabi for ages. I really hated it and thought that luckily my family has never tried cooking it (my mum was very very surprised when I told her some people cook it).

  3. Summer is coming and I have started decreasing meat and carbohydrates and increase salads. So this looks delicious and definitely something I would love to include to my diet!

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly. I haven’t made the Thai papaya salad (only Vietnamese) but I’ll try it one day. I wonder how the raw string beans taste! (I’ll probably use the European ones in the summer).

  4. I have never tried kohlrabi before, because I can’t spell kohlrabi.. just kidding! I would love to try this new-to-me vegetable. Looks refreshing! Very nice pic!

  5. WOW – I didn’t realize how far behind I am! Sorry for my absence but it’s been a very crazy March. So glad to be back and see all of these great recipes. I’ve seen kohlrabi at the market, but have never bought one, nor have I ever tasted one. Thanks for the warning about cooking it. Since you and I obviously have many of the same tastes with food, I trust you wholeheartedly. 🙂 I do love the idea of eating it raw and with that wonderful sauce, I’m sure this is just downright DElicious!

    1. Thank you so much, MJ. I’m glad you have never had cooked kohlrabi… now you can discover it raw, the way it should be. It’s like a juicier and weaker version of a radish (though after some time it smells like a cabbage, so you should use it or eat it after peeling). I have a friend who didn’t want to touch raw kolhrabi because she hated so much the cooked version…

    1. Hi, Mr. Three-Cookies. So nice to see you back! I missed your comments too. I think the first time I saw the word “mock” in a recipe’s name it was a “mock turtle” soup, very popular in olden times. I really like this expression (and it sounds better than “false” 😉 ).

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