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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 11/22/2010

Groundwork: Kohlrabi and chard bring up the rear

By Adrian Higgins

At the American History Museum Victory Garden, cabbage and chard, among the fall crops for the Thanksgiving table. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

The enterprising home gardener could bring an array of freshly dug vegetables to the Thanksgiving table that would astound most people. The following all are within the realm of the gardener-cook who set to work earlier in the growing season: Carrots, parsnips, lettuce, leeks, turnips, radishes, Asian greens, kale, cabbage and broccoli, arugula and mesclun greens.

If you throw in stuff that has been harvested and stored, you could add winter squash, beans, peppers, onions and potatoes to the mix. Who needs a turkey? Who needs a supermarket?

Two late-season veggies caught my eye during my last visit of the year to the Victory Garden at the American History Museum.

Kohlrabi is one of the least-known members of the cabbage family and, ironically, one of the easiest to grow and arguably the most delicious. It forms a distinctive globe just above the soil level, from which leaf stalks erupt. Think Sputnik. This form is striking enough in the white variety of kohlrabi, in the varieties with purple skin, the effect is magical. The kohlrabi bulb is crisp and sweet, and is usually harvested before it grows more than four inches across. Freshly dug, it's good enough to eat raw, though it is commonly used in the kitchen as you might a turnip. The young leaves are tender and great for salads.

The kohlrabi is a cool-season veggie that matures in a short 45 to 60 days, far sooner than its cousins the cabbage and Brussels sprouts. The quicker a vegetable matures, the less chance it has to be abused by pests, diseases, weather and the gardener. Brief is good.

Young kohlrabi leaf, perfect as a raw green. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

Kohlrabi has two seasons in the Washington garden. In the spring, it is started indoors from seed in late January and planted out in March for harvest in May. The second sowing can be directly in the soil, but by mid-August for a good show in the fall. This latter time frame requires some forethought because no gardener is inclined to rip out tomatoes and beans and the rest as they just start to produce in high summer.

Gardener Joe Brunetti has an obvious predecessor crop to fall kohlrabi, the cucumber. Sown in May and harvested in late July into August, it is often at the end of its season by then, especially if it gets hit by the common bacterial wilt. Tear out the vines, cultivate and rake the soil and sow rows of kohlrabi. They will need even soil moisture and thinning as seedlings. One thing to watch out for, says Joe, is the changing light patterns of fall. A bed that is blasted by the sun in August might be shaded by the beginning of October, which will bode ill for fall maturing vegetables. Like all dazzling artists, vegetables perform best in the limelight.

Ruby Swiss chard. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

The other lovely November beauty at the moment is the ruby Swiss chard. Again sown in August, it forms two eye-catching clumps in the Victory Garden. The stems are a vibrant magenta, a color that extends to the prominent leaf veins. It tastes as good as it looks. The key to keeping chard productive and handsome is to thin the plants as they grow and to continue to harvest the older leaves as the new ones emerge from the center. In a protected garden, the chard will make it through the winter, battered perhaps but ready to soldier on until the newly sown spring batch takes over. Kolhrabi fans, keep reading.

Kohlrabi and Turkey Sausage Soup
6 to 8 servings

This is a hearty harvest soup that tantalizes with sweet kohlrabi, spicy chipotle and smoky paprika. Like most soups, it ages well; make it the day before serving. If the kohlrabi root still has the leaves attached to the bulb, add them to the soup along with the kale.

From Smithsonian Garden education specialist Cynthia A. Brown.

1 pound turkey sausage, casings removed (may substitute 1 1/2 cups cooked turkey. If leftovers are used, add the meat to the soup after the vegetables are tender. Heat until the turkey is warm.)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large leek (trimmed), white and light-green parts, cleaned and cut crosswise into thin slices
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
15 ounces canned chopped tomatoes with chipotle, such as Muir Glen brand, with the juices
2 cups water
1 pound kohlrabi, peeled, cored and cut into bite-size pieces
1 pound unpeeled or peeled Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch coins (about a cup)
1 large bunch kale, stems and ribs removed, chopped (4 cups)

Place a large soup pot over medium heat. Add enough of the oil to coat the bottom, then add the turkey sausage to the pot and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, breaking up clumps as needed. (The sausage will not be cooked through at this point.)

Add the leek and garlic; cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until they have softened.

Add the Spanish smoked paprika, stirring to combine, then add the broth, chopped tomatoes and their juices and the water. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, then add the potatoes, kohlrabi, kale and carrots. Once the liquid returns to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables are tender.

Serve warm.

Per serving (based on 8): 230 calories, 17 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 660 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar

By Adrian Higgins  | November 22, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Groundwork, Holiday, Recipes  | Tags:  Adrian Higgins, Cindy Brown, Groundwork, Joe Brunetti, holiday, recipes  
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