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Kohlrabi, a case of mistaken identity

Kohlrabi, a case of mistaken identity. Kohlrabi and Potato Soup. Illustrates VEGGIES (category d), by Joe Yonan (c) 2013, The Washington Post. Moved Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey)

Kohlrabi, a case of mistaken identity. Kohlrabi and Potato Soup. Illustrates VEGGIES (category d), by Joe Yonan (c) 2013, The Washington Post. Moved Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey)

Cookbook author James Peterson compares its flavor to those of turnips and radishes. In her Vegetable Literacy, Deborah Madison says it reminds her most of cauliflower. To Washington Post gardening columnist Barbara Damrosch, it can be as sweet as a parsnip if harvested in late fall.

They’re all talking about kohlrabi, but about the only things they agree on are that it tastes relatively mild and looks relatively strange. (In Vegetables, Revised, Peterson writes that the round orb with stems and leaves shooting straight up looks “like an organ on life support,” while Damrosch prefers a Sputnik analogy.)

Like many cooks, I’ve mostly eaten kohlrabi raw, used as crudite or grated into a salad. At this time of year my impulse turns to soup. A local farmers market maven has been telling me for years that when she cooks kohlrabi into a chunky soup, it carries the flavors of both cabbage and potatoes. When I’ve pureed it, I’ve found the texture a little watery, so I’ve started including an actual potato in the mix, too.

Most of the time when I see it in the markets, this brassica (related to, yes, cabbage and cauliflower but also to kale, broccoli and more) has been snipped of its stems and leaves, but if you find it with the greens attached, they’re worth cooking. Treat them like collards, and you’ll see what I mean.

A friend who has been spotting it recently on restaurant menus has taken to repeated proclamations that “Kohlrabi is the new cauliflower.” I don’t know about that, but when he came over for dinner recently I made this soup in his honor. To echo its texture when raw, I garnished the thick soup with diced Asian pear (in addition to pecans and parsley), adding a little sweetness and crunch.

How did the kohlrabi taste? I can see why cooks disagree: It’s got a little broccoli flavor, a bit of cauliflower, a hint of turnip, a touch of celery. But maybe it’s time to stop the comparisons and say that it tastes . . . just like kohlrabi.

Kohlrabi and Potato Soup

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

21/2 pounds kohlrabi (1 large or 2 small bulbs), peeled and diced

1 large potato (about 12 ounces), peeled and diced

4 cups homemade or store-bought, no-salt-added vegetable broth

1 small Asian pear, peeled, cored and finely chopped

1/2 cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped (see note)

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves

Pour the 3 tablespoons of oil into a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, stirring to coat; cover and cook until tender and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Add the kohlrabi, potato and broth. Increase the heat to medium-high to bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low so the soup is barely bubbling around the edges. Cover and cook until the kohlrabi and potato are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. (Or transfer it to a blender or food processor and puree it in batches, then return it to the pot to keep warm.)

Divide the soup among individual bowls. Top each portion with pear, pecans, parsley and a drizzle of the oil. Serve hot.

NOTE: Toast the pecans in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat for several minutes, until the nuts are fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely before chopping.

Makes 8 cups, 4 servings.

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