The sight of a kohlrabi reminds me of my grandma.
My mom, dad, brother, grandma and grandpa and I used to love frequenting the local farmers markets. We’d often go to either the one by the Brookfield Public Library or the West Allis Farmers Market in Wisconsin. Walking the outdoor stalls and aisles of produce vendors was exhilarating and rewarding. With a loaded minivan, we would come home with a host of different fruits and vegetables that would serve as the start to a great homemade meal.
During a visit to the West Allis Farmers Market in 2012, my grandma picked up a curious little vegetable that I had never met before. It was the kohlrabi. A funny-looking, almost-spherical light green thingy with appendage offshoots. I thought it was super cute as a vegetable but even cuter how my grandma reacted to it. She smiled as if to cuddle the kohlrabi, knowing it would reach its ultimate potential and destiny in our dinner. We purchased her kohlrabi pick, along with a few of its friends and headed home.
The kitchen at my grandparents’ old home in Wauwatosa was one of joy, productivity and love. Joy, because the meals that my grandma created brought so much happiness to all when eating. Productivity, because as she chopped and prepped and took such care and precaution in each and every motion, she was a badass ninja in her space. Love, because underlying and overarching all of her actions was the ultimate love any grandma could share with her family. She spoke love through her food and it was ever so heartwarmingly felt.
That night, she sautéed the kohlrabi to perfection. Slices of tender beef, bursts of hot peppers scintillating the taste buds and crunchy, oh-so-chompworthy slivers of kohlrabi combined together for a dish to remember.
I wanted to share the memory of my grandma choosing, preparing and cooking up that precious kohlrabi. Even now, when I see a kohlrabi, I think of her.
RECIPE: Grandma’s Sautéed Kohlrabi with Beef
1-2 whole kohlrabi
4 – 6 oz. beef tenderloin
handful hot peppers
3 slices ginger
3 pinches salt
1 pinch sugar
3 tsp soy sauce
2 tbsp cooking wine
1 tsp corn starch dissolved in 2 tsp water
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp cooking oil
Step 1: Slice the kohlrabi and hot peppers into slivers and cut into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
Step 2: Mince two cloves of garlic. Set aside.
Step 3: Slice the beef tenderloin into thin slices. In a bowl, combine the ginger, salt, sugar, soy sauce, corn starch and water mixture with beef slices. Mix well using hands, spoon or chopsticks until beef is coated in mixture. Set aside for 10 minutes to tenderize the meat and allow the flavors to develop.
Step 4: In a large frying pan, turn heat to medium-high and add 1 tsp oil to pan when warming. Take the beef slices and pour all contents including liquid into the pan. Stir and toss with chopsticks or a wooden cooking spoon until beef is 80% cooked through. Pour into bowl to set aside.
Step 5: In the same pan, add 1 tsp oil. When hot, add minced garlic and stir around until partially cooked. Add hot peppers and kohlrabi with a pinch of salt and mix until kohlrabi is 80% cooked through.
Step 6: Add beef to the pan with the kohlrabi and hot peppers and stir in to mix well until all components are fully cooked. Turn heat off, remove from pan and serve.
Thank you, Po Po!!!
I miss my grandma dearly these days. After my mom, my grandma’s daughter, passed away in 2011, nothing was the same. I miss my mom dearly and one day will share more stories of my lovely, beautiful mom. I sometimes still cannot believe it was nine years ago. So much has happened in this time and I’ve learned that as loved ones leave your side, it’s heartbreaking and sad and so much more that could not be fully or adequately explained in this one sentence.
But one thing I’ve learned is as some loved ones leave your life and stay in your heart, others will come into your life, if you’re willing to open your heart.
One of the toughest transitions for my entire family was when my dad got remarried after my mom passed. It wasn’t easy for my grandparents as they had just lost their beloved daughter. It wasn’t easy for my brother and myself, because we mourned our mom. But, it also wasn’t easy for my dad, who had lost the love of his life and who had missed his 30thanniversary by just one month. Without getting into all of the details, I’ll say that with time and with understanding, I came to know my stepmom very well and truly love her deeply.
During a visit to see my dad and stepmom in Florida this past February, we went to the local farmers market in Clearwater. There it was. I spotted it. The kohlrabi, once again, in its funny form, seemingly looking up at me with the grinning face of my grandma. A reminder of the past, a gem of a vegetable, a trigger that hit me in the heart so hard and simultaneously perked up my taste buds at the thought of that wonderful sautéed dish my grandma had so lovingly prepared eight years back.
It wasn’t the same experience; it couldn’t possibly be. It wasn’t meant to be felt in the same manner, eight years later. The stage was set. The scene was different. I took the cue and ran stage left to pick up the kohlrabi of my choice, with the same care and whimsy my grandma had displayed back then.
That day, we had kohlrabi a new way. My stepmom lovingly prepared the kohlrabi not as a hot dish, but a cold one. More an appetizer, the kohlrabi took a new shape and form and conveyed a different appreciation. Sitting around the inviting dining table, decorated with French bistro themed placemats, amidst the Floridian breeze, I watched as a nifty leaf-shaped container carrying that prized produce made its way over.
My stepmom brought over a spoon and rested it on top of the chef-d’oeuvre. Aromas of cilantro and vinegar hit me square in the jowls, my mouth watering at the thought of consumption. I looked down and around, at the food made with care, at the dishes of dumplings, bamboo shoots and century egg, at the people around the table and I was happy. And I knew my grandma and my mom smiled down at us and that day, dined on kohlrabi with us too.
Please enjoy my stepmom’s kohlrabi recipe, a cold and tangy treat that opens up the taste buds.
RECIPE: Jane’s Tangy + Spicy Matchstick Kohlrabi
1 whole kohlrabi
2 red hot peppers
2 pinches salt
1 pinch white pepper
3 pinches sugar
3-4 tbsp vinegar
3-4 sprigs chopped cilantro
Step 1: Slice the kohlrabi into matchstick slivers. Set aside.
Step 2: Slice the hot peppers into very tiny pieces. Add to the kohlrabi.
Step 3: Combine the salt, white pepper and sugar with the vinegar until dissolved. Pour over sliced kohlrabi, taking two large spoons to toss and combine to coat.
Step 4: Garnish with cilantro and serve in a fun platter!
By the way, I realized that you’re probably wondering what a kohlrabi tastes like! To me, it’s got the bite of a white radish with the flavor of a broccoli stalk combined with a hint of brussel sprout attitude. I’m so happy to have enjoyed the kohlrabi in different ways. Now when I think of this weird and funny vegetable, I think of the initial encounter and the latest encounter and all of the events in between that allowed for the appreciation of both past and present.