Kohlrabi: That weird bulb-thing

“What is that?” asked a lady at the CSA last week, holding a purple bulb.  I replied, “Kohlrabi.” “This weird bulb-thing?  That’s a kohlrabi?  What do I do with it?”

I told her that a friend of mine, who grew up in Germany, passed along that her family would grow lots of them in their garden and they ate them raw, peeled and sliced with a little salt, almost every night in the summer.

But as I was driving home, I realized that we use kohlrabi in lots of ways, from lacto-fermented to Indian food (gaanth gobhi).  It tastes sweet, but a little broccoli/cabbage-like.  The consistency is crisp and is reminiscent of broccoli stems.  Sometimes we just slice them and eat them with dip or a little salt, or add them to cold salads.  But kohlrabi is extremely versatile.  It is also a crop that comes in twice in NJ, because it is a cooler weather crop.  My CSA distributes them in the spring and then again in the fall, so I have spring/summer recipes and uses and fall/winter recipes and uses.

This time of year, we tend to the raw and lacto-fermented recipes — things that don’t heat up the kitchen!  But in the fall and winter, we roast it in chunks, cube it and add it to curries, or even cut it like french fries and pop it in the deep fryer.

Here is a super easy lacto-fermentation recipe for kohlrabi:

Garlic Kohlrabi Pickles

  • 1 large kohlrabi, peeled and cut into 1/4″ sticks, a max of 1/4″ shorter than the jar you are using
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, halved
  • 2 T sea salt OR 1 T sea salt + 1 T whey from yogurt making, if you have it
  • 2 C filtered/unchlorinated water
  • horseradish leaf (optional)**
  1. In a scrupulously clean wide-mouth pint jar, mash the horseradish leaf into the bottom of the jar.
  2. Add the kohlrabi sticks and garlic.
  3. Combine the water and salt (and whey if you are using it) to make a brine.  Mix until the salt is completely dissolved.
  4. Add the brine to the jar, being sure to leave some space at the top.
  5. Secure the lid.
  6. Leave the jar on a counter, out of direct sunlight, for 2-3 days.  When you see bubbles, put it in the fridge. One of the bonuses of lacto-fermenting is that you can open the jar and not break a seal or wreck anything.  Open the jar and look at the pickles.  Sniff them.  Taste them.  If you like how they taste, put then in the fridge.  If you want them to be a little more “done,” leave them out for another 12 hours.  These will keep in the fridge for about 6 weeks.  After that, the texture begins to degrade.

**I use horseradish leaf in all of my pickle jars. Bruising the leaf in the bottom of the jar helps release the naturally occurring potassium and magnesium that help the pickles retain their crispness.

Who Grew Your Food?

Among the perks of going to a farmer’s market is actually getting to speak to the person who grew your food. I talk about this all of the time in different ways. In class, when I am teaching the Politics of Food unit, we discuss the concept of “eating lower on the commodity chain;” in my Lacto-Fermentation classes, I talk about using fresh ingredients, about knowing when items were harvested; with my peers and I talk about food safety and how knowing and respecting the people who are producing our food will make it safer. My neighbor asked how I became so knowledgeable about food production – I am an ENGLISH teacher, not a Biology teacher, nor Environmental Science teacher, nor a Horticulture teacher. I learned by asking questions of the farmers who produce my food. Sometimes I take this for granted – that I have this direct access, but you don’t have to belong to a CSA or buy a half a steer once a year to have this kind of contact. If you choose to buy your produce at one of the many farmer’s markets that are springing up all over our area, you can ask questions of the farmers – the men and women who are on the other side of the table.

As I have said before, the farmers I know are among the smartest people with whom I am acquainted. Before they were farmers, or in addition to farming, they earned degrees in English, Neuro-science, History, Bio-chemistry, Social Work, and Education; they were college professors, lab techs, nurses, Elementary School principals, and teachers. I know only one who knew he always wanted to be a farmer. All of the others came to farming for a myriad of reasons, none of which is any less fascinating than the rest.

This week at the Collingswood Farmer’s Market, I met my friend Laura who introduced me to her farmer friends, Barry and Carol Savoie from Savoie Organic Farm in Williamstown, NJ. On Saturday, among other produce, the Savoies had beautiful garlic, and I had the opportunity to “talk garlic” with Barry. The variety this week was White German Extra Hardy, a variety I haven’t had since my visit to Ecosophy Farm in Woodward, PA. Due to the massive individual cloves, this garlic is especially good to roast because it can stay on the heat longer without drying out which allows for the flavors to really develop. You know how Silver Queen corn gets really sweet when you roast it?  This garlic is the Silver Queen of garlic.

I learned that the Savoies both wandered a bit, but came back to New Jersey to settle down on land owned by Carol’s father. They went through the arduous process of attaining Organic certification, which is quite a task for any farm, but especially a small farm. For Barry, this isn’t just about certification and the Organic moniker – he believes in treating his land well in order to be a good steward of the environment. While they do not have on-farm sales, these busy farmers have three different CSA options, and make produce available at three markets: Collingswood, Headhouse in Philadelphia, and Ocean City.

Roasted Garlic

If we are planning a meal that is going to be on the grill for a while, we will plan to roast some garlic to have on hand.  It keeps for about two weeks in the fridge, although we generally use it up much faster that that.

  1. Brush the head of garlic to remove any dirt that might be clinging to it.  DO NOT WASH IT!
  2. Wrap the entire head in foil.
  3. Place the wrapped head of garlic on the back of the grill as soon as you can. If you use a charcoal grill, put it on when you put the grill grates on and just leave it there, even after you are done grilling, with the lid down, until your coals have burned down.  If you use a gas grill, the garlic should be on the heat for at least an hour (medium heat), but more is better.  Just be sure the foil packet is not directly over the flames.

To use it, just squeeze out a clove and spread it on bruschetta, or mash it and add it to salad dressing, or mix it with butter to spread on that roasted Silver Queen corn!

Living “La Vita Locale”

This summer I will be engaging in a new endeavor on my blog, “La Vita Locale” that will feature recipes for produce that is currently available in local farmer’s markets and my Community Supported Agriculture farm, Fernbrook Farm CSA. Some posts will include links to prior posts (why reinvent the wheel, right?) in order to give you the most options for your produce.

One of the projects I sometimes give my students when I teach the Politics of Food unit is to go grocery shopping with a parent and look for a list of items at a grocery store and a farmer’s market. The discussion we have after they do this activity is always compelling because they realize that phrases like “Fresh baked on Premises” does not mean made from scratch with whole foods ingredients. Baked on premises only means that they defrosted a pie and stuck it in the oven, baked it, let it cool, and put it in a box. They learn that the produce at some Farmer’s “markets” comes from Florida and California. There is nothing wrong with a store selling fruits and veggies from other states, but when there are “Jersey Fresh” banners festooning the market from one end to the other, there is an implication that the food is local. News flash: Oranges don’t grow in New Jersey. Neither do avocados.

The students soon come to realize that there are farmer’s markets and then there are Farmer’s Markets. The ones we have relegated to lower case “fm” are the ones where maybe 10% of what they have for sale is actually produced by the company or farm that is selling it. We understand that a farm may not bottle its own honey, or make its own salsa, and maybe they get those value-added products from another local source, but those things usually aren’t the bulk of what is available in the farm shop. How do you know what the farm actually grows? If it isn’t labeled “Smith Farm’s Own” or something like that, just ask. With the amount of publicity food is getting lately, with this big emphasis on “Fresh & Local,” it has become ever more important to ask questions, read labels, and not just take for granted that if the produce for sale is presented in a little basket that it came from a local farm source.

Then there are real Farmer’s Markets, like The Collingswood Farmer’s Market that I had the pleasure of visiting yesterday with my friend Cathy. On Saturday mornings, farmer’s come in and set up tables and sell produce.  This is one way to eat lower on the commodity chain: fewer steps between the producer/farmer and the consumer — you! Yesterday at the market I saw a lot of asparagus. It happens to be a great year for asparagus – we have been eating asparagus from our patch 2 or 3 times a week for the past few weeks. I didn’t buy any. But I did get wonderful organic strawberries from DanLynn Farms. My strawberries are just blushing, so I was pretty excited to have strawberries (and so were my children!). I also picked up amazing fresh mushrooms from Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms. Most mushrooms from the grocery store are dried out, but until you have had a freshly harvested mushroom, you wouldn’t even know the difference.

photo 3But the fun story of the morning was running into a former Triton student, April, at the Treehouse Coffee Shop’s booth. They featured fresh-made lemonade (like right in front of my face) and a wide variety of baked goods, including a really excellent gluten-free brownie. They also carry salsa and jams produced by people in the community. The Treehouse is located in Audubon, NJ and hosts the Our Yards Farm CSA, which is run by Julie, a “graduate” of the apprentice program at my CSA! I love how small the world can be!

Back to those mushrooms! We were having grilled lamb, so we sautéed the mushrooms to serve along side:

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 pint of mushrooms
  • 1 T chopped shallot
  • 2-3 T white wine
  • 1 t chopped fresh sage
  • salt to taste

Cut the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Heat a cast iron skillet and melt the butter over medium heat. Add chopped shallot and cook until it is translucent. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they are golden. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. When the pan is dry, turn off the heat. Toss with chopped fresh sage. Salt to taste.

Channuka Favorite Foods

A friend once told me he could sum up Jewish holidays in a sentence: An enemy tried to destroy us, but didn’t, so now we eat.  This is definitely true for Channuka.  Favorite foods of mine are potato latkes and sufgonyiot (a sort of jelly donut affair).  I didn’t know how to make really great latkes until I got married and Greg explained that I needed to get the excess starch off of the potatoes and then drain them really well.  And sufgonyiot?  I learned a really easy, magical recipe from Allyse Mitchell, a friend from my synagogue.

Latkes (Potato pancakes)

  • 4-5 lbs. russet potatoes
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 C matzoh meal
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Oil for frying

  1. Peel the potatoes and then wash them.  Grate the potatoes and put the grated potatoes in a bowl of water immediately.  This prevents oxidation (discoloring) and helps extract the excess starch from the potatoes.
  2. Put the minced onion in a colander and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt.  Let stand.
  3. Heat the oil in a pan.
  4. Drain the water from the potatoes and then mix in the onion.  Put the entire mixture into a clean towel and squeeze out all of the water that you can.  The drier this mixture is, the better.
  5. Put the potato and onion back in the bowl and mix in the eggs, matzoh meal and remaining teaspoon of salt.
  6. When the oil is hot (test it by dropping one potato shred in the pan), put a small scoop of potato mixture in the pan and flatten it to about 1/4 inch thick. When the first side has browned, flip it over to finish cooking.  Remove it form the pan and let it drain on brown paper, or paper towels.  When it is cool enough, taste it for seasoning.  Add more salt if needed.
  7. Place large spoonfuls of potato mixture in the oil, and flatten the mound to be about 1/4 inch thick.  Turn when the underside is browned.
  8. Drain on brown paper or paper towels.

I’m not sure how many latkes this makes because they get eaten as they come out of the pan.

 

Sufgonyiot

  • 4 C flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/4 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 t vanilla

Oil for frying

  1. In a deep skillet, heat oil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients.
  3. In another bowl, mix the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla, and then add it to the dry ingredients.  Mix well.
  4. When the oil is hot (check by putting a tiny bit of dough in the oil — if it sizzles, it’s ready), place heaping tablespoons** of dough in the hot oil.  Flip when the underside is brown.
  5. Drain on brown paper or paper towels.

These are great as-is, rolled in sugar or cinnamon-sugar, or filled with jelly.

Thin down the jelly with some water and mix it until it is smooth.  Fill the injector and shoot it in the donut.  Don’t be overzealous, though, or jelly ends up all over the kitchen.

**I use a trigger ice cream scoop for this.  It makes things much easier.

Each night, as we light one more candle, let it be a reminder that every day of our lives we should strive to bring a little more light into the world.  My friend Woody Pollock said that to me a long time ago.  Thanks Woody, for bringing so much light into my life.

First Frost: Pickled Tomatoes

There is always something exciting about the first frost.  While the leaves have been changing for a while, the oranges and reds have come to dominate the tree-lined avenues.  The air turned from the heavy humidity of summer to the dry crisp of autumn seemingly overnight (well, actually it was the other day – started out about 8,000% humidity in the morning and gave way to a dry, cool breeze by the afternoon).  It is, perhaps, my favorite time of year.  There is a sense of relief when the intense heat of summer finally desists.

For me, the first frost signifies the true beginning of autumn.  The summer plants, tomatoes, peppers, and annual herbs, all “bit it” last night, leaves curling and turning dark.  Unpicked fruits soon to pucker, soon to be chicken food.

It is also the harbinger of quieter times ahead – the end of fall sports, and all of the running around inherent in being the parent of two athletes, involved in two different sports, at two different schools.  I know many of you feel my pain!

So out I went this afternoon, to pick all of the green tomatoes. They are some of our favorite pickles. The small cherry or grape tomatoes I leave whole and the larger ones are cut into halves.

 

Lacto-Fermented Pickled Green Tomatoes

Pack jars with green tomatoes, keeping like varieties together. If you have some cherry tomatoes and some larger tomatoes that you are going to cut, put them in separate jars as whole fruits will last longer than cut fruits.

Per jar, add:

¼ t black pepper corns

¼ t dill seed

1 or 2 cloves of garlic

1 dried chili (optional)

Cover the tomatoes with brine in the proportion of

1 T salt

1 C water

Put lids on the jars and leave on the counter until bubbles start to form, usually 2 or 3 days. Once there are bubbles, move them to cold storage. These are NOT shelf stable because they have not been hot processed.