At the moment, local farmers’ markets are overflowing with greens, and the spring roots appearing alongside, or even attached, complement them well. At their simplest, radishes, small turnips and kohlrabi add color, flavor and texture to tender salad greens. Some recent forays into cooking with these crops shows how versatile they can really be, and shine on their own.
One’s first taste of kohlrabi (above, with scarlet turnip) is often at its simplest — raw, peeled and sliced, either in a salad or on its own. We also like round planks of kohlrabi grilled, or in chunks and roasted. Though, strictly speaking, kohlrabi’s not a root, it seems useful to include them with these fellow brassicas. The couple of bunches we picked up this week came with their full head of greens attached, and offered a chance to cook with both the leaves and their bulbous stems.
Kohlrabi puree proved to be a wonderfully adaptable preparation. The basics: Steam or boil the bulb until tender; mash, rice or process to a puree; season to taste. With leaves on hand, we sautéed them with some garlic, then pureed them at the same time as the bulb. To accompany freshly caught local scallops, we seasoned the kohlrabi puree with a splash of lemon juice, salt and pepper, and a dollop of creme fraiche to even things out. Cooking kohlrabi brings out a sweetly delicate flavor, and is surprisingly delicious boiled and left as is. As a puree, it takes on a lightness, with a pleasing texture binding it together. The leaves are an optional addition, and, when they’re no longer available, we’re imagining the puree tinted pale green with spring onions or just-emerging garlic scapes, or lavender pink with chive blossoms. Later, as the days shorten, the puree can be plumped up with the comforting addition of potatoes or celeriac, and apples.
Small turnips, either red or white, are often referred to as salad turnips. In this preparation, they’re virtually interchangeable with radishes. Cut into bite-sized wedges, pan-roasting these scarlet turnips and white radishes is a quick way to prepare them, especially when they’re ready in the garden all at once, or your CSA share contains several bunches.
In the pan, the exposed surfaces become caramelized; some prefer braising over this method for a milder flavor. The edible greens were put aside for another meal, though could have just as easily been slivered into ribbons, tossed into the pan, and cooked until wilted or braised.
Sautéing turnips and radishes leaves just enough bite to counter peppery slices of duck pastrami. Some Limpa rye bread and a mayonnaise-based mustard sauce completed this riff on a New York deli staple. For another time, we’d consider adding toasted mustard seed to the pan, or dressing the cooked roots with a mustardy vinaigrette, or maybe a pesto made from the leaves.
Ordinarily, we’re able to rely on our garden for radishes, especially at this time of year. However, as many others are experiencing, the flea beetles have been fierce, stripping the developing foliage and leaving nothing for the roots to feed on. It was cheering then to find such an array of radishes being offered at the Portsmouth Farmers’ Market — red Cherry Belle, baby white daikon, slender French breakfast, and golden russeted Zlata.
We adapted Jim Lahey’s recipe for potato flatbread, swapping in radish cut into coins for the potatoes, feta for the cheese, and zahtar for the herbs. This Middle Eastern spice blend combines sesame seeds, sumac, and other dried herbs such as oregano and thyme, for a nicely sweet-sour note. After a long winter of storage roots, cooking with these fresh ones is a welcome way of bringing the change of season to the table.
Local ingredients: Kohlrabi from Wake Robin Farm; scarlet turnips and French breakfast radishes from Two Toad Farm; white radishes from Osprey Cove Organic Farm/Stone Wall Farm; Zlata and red radishes from Garen’s Greens; scallops from FV Rimrack; duck pastrami from Popper’s Artisanal Meats; feta cheese from Brookford Farm; salad greens from the garden.