Darin Waldner knows my favorite food starts with “V” and ends with “egetable.”
The first time I visited his garden, Day County sunshine was heating the rows of cabbage and onions and kale. Warm black loam hugged my toes and stained my pink flip-flops as I padded through the field on the south end of Webster, South Dakota.
We bypassed the cucumbers and peppers that day because Waldner and I were on a mission. That morning over coffee after church, he had promised me kohlrabi, a vegetable I’d not yet tasted. My German friends eat kohlrabi all the time, but an unofficial poll of my prairie friends showed not many have tried it.
Kohlrabi looks like something that should grow on another planet. It reminds me of a spaceship, popping up from the earth on a single stem like a pale green softball with leaves attached. I had to do an internet search to learn what to do with it. The plant takes a bit of effort to peel and cut, but is it ever worth it.
The name comes from the German word for cabbage – kohl – and the Dutch word for turnip – rabi. If you’re not as crazy about cabbage and turnips as I am, it’s probably because they haven’t been cooked right. Please don’t let this stop you from trying this delicious, crunchy mild-tasting vegetable. Kohlrabi can be peeled, then grated or julienned and eaten raw in salads, or cooked.
My favorite method is roasting, because the oven heat caramelizes the natural sugars in the vegetable and brings out the best of its flavor. To save on energy costs, you can roast kohlrabi while you have something else in the oven – as long as the temperature is anywhere between 350 and 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you acquire kohlabi with the leaves still on, good for you. All the parts are edible. Cut the slender stems away from the bulb, then chop them and save to cook with the leaves as you would kale or other greens.
To peel the bulb, carefully use a sharp knife or vegetable peeler. Cut the bulb into bite-size cubes for roasting, or use a sharp knife or food processor to cut into matchsticks to add to a tossed salad.
Waldner Farms sells produce all season long on Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon at their gardens on the south end of Webster, or anytime by appointment. They also offer produce at Webster’s farmers market, each Tuesday from 3 to 6 p.m, on South Main Street. Find details on Waldner Farms’ Facebook page.
Growing vegetables is a side business for Waldner and his wife, Melissa, their young daughter, and his mother. After two or three years wondering what to do with garden excess, “we decided to ramp it up,” he said, now hiring a bit of extra help in the summer.
This is the first year the Waldners are growing produce in a high tunnel, which differs from a greenhouse in that crops are planted directly in the ground. The structure keeps the soil warm enough to grow produce almost year-round.
The Waldners put in about 40 hours a week of work at their gardens – over and above their regular jobs.
“It’s a busy lifestyle but if you love what you do it’s not work,” he said.
On a busy Saturday in peak season, up to 100 customers stop at Waldner Farms to pick their own produce or buy it ready to go. Waldner has this advice for anyone wanting to tap into the farmers market scene: The more finished products you can sell, such as jams or canned tomatoes, the happier customers are.
“Anybody can grow broccoli or cauliflower or sweet corn,” he said. “What sets you apart at the farmers market is (offering) something special. There’s some artisanship to it.”
It’s gratifying to witness the demand for locally grown produce in the state.
“Build it and they will come – and work, work, work at it,” Waldner said. “And did I mention work some more?”
Recipe adapted from The Spruce Eats
1 pound kohlrabi (about 2 bulbs)
2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt to taste
Trim the kohlrabi, cut off stray stems and peel the bulb to reveal the tender white flesh.
Cut the peeled bulb into wedges or bite-sized chunks that are all about the same size so that they cook at the same rate. Put them in a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and stir well to coat the kohlrabi. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
Make sure the chunks or wedges have plenty of space in the pan - if they are crowded, they won’t end with the delectable caramelized exterior. Bake about 1⁄2 hour at 375 F, or until tender on the inside and slightly crisp on the outside.
Sautéed kohlrabi greens
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
1⁄2 pound kohlrabi leaves, beet or turnip greens, or chard
1 to 1 1⁄2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 minced garlic clove
2 Tablespoons finely chopped onion
Lemon juice (optional)
Rinse greens. Drain and cut leaves and stems into ¼ to ½-inch strips and pieces.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add stems, garlic cloves, and onion and sauté until onion softens. Add the leaves and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice (optional).