I have been on quite a cumin kick lately. In a post long ago, I referred to being (like a painter with his color "periods") in my "nutmeg period". I have definitely moved on to cumin now. It's spicy without being burning hot. It stands up well to gutsy vegetables like cabbage and onions. It reminds me of good Mexican food, which is no longer a cuisine to be taken for granted as it was long ago when I lived in Chicago. And now that I'm on a program to lose weight, all of those things - well, except for the Mexican cuisine, which can be quite high in calories - are to the good. So when a funky purple kohlrabi showed up in my weekly vegetable delivery, it immediately sprang to mind.
As is usual when confronted with an unusual vegetable, I hit the Internet looking for inspiration. Sadly, I found none. Nigel Slater, my favorite source of inspiration, detests the poor vegetable. Other offerings were almost universally unsuitable for a woman on a diet, involving baking the slices in cream or grating them and dousing with mayonnaise. So I turned back to my first idea: cumin and kohlrabi. I decided they needed a substantial background and so I opted for quinoa as a base and also threw in a red pepper that was lingering in the back of the vegetable drawer. And finally, I decided to add a generous helping of mushrooms. We recently got the barbecue working again for the season and so I opted to simply grill the mushrooms. The result was deeply satisfying, with the spicy flavors of cumin and cayenne pepper, meatiness of the grilled mushrooms, sweet red peppers and kohlrabi with its delicate brassica note. It stood up well to the other flavors but didn't fight them - a perfect hearty summer salad.
If you are interested in the less diet conscious classic kohlrabi recipes, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a fan of the kohlrabi and included three recipes I'd like to try in last Saturday's Guardian.
Kohrabi, Quinoa and Cumin Salad (serves 4, at 3.5 WeightWatchers point per serving)
250 g quinoa
700 ml stock
1 small kohrabi (around 350 g)
30 medium mushrooms
1 red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (or considerably less if using commercial stock)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
In making the salad, I opted for simplicity and cooked the onion, kohlrabi and quinoa all at once in the stock. As it turned out, the timing was perfect, with the kohlrabi becoming tender just as the little quinoa seeds were popping into perfectly cooked curlicues. If you are nervous about this method, you could easily steam the kohlrabi separately and add it once the quinoa is nearly done. In this case, I would replace some of the stock with the water from steaming kohlrabi so as to preserve all the vitamins.
Bring the stock to a low boil and add the quinoa. Slice the onion in fine half-moons and add to the pot. Wash the kohlrabi and slice in thin bite-sized tiles. Most recipes call for peeling kohlrabi, but mine was young and such a pretty glossy purple that I opted to simply peel away the few rough patches and and cut it up with the skin. Add the kohlrabi and spices to the stock and quinoa, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the quinoa is swollen and open and the kohlrabi is tender. It should take about 20-25 minutes.
In the meantime, wash and trim the mushrooms. Slice the larger ones in half and leave the small ones intact. Fire up the barbecue and grill the mushrooms until slightly shriveled and browned - about five minutes. Turn them over and cook the other side until nicely browned. Remove to a plate. If you don't have a barbecue, you can simply roast them in a hot oven, shaking the pan from time to time to cook on all sides.
Wash, cut in two and deseed the pepper. Place it in the hottest part of the grill, skin side down. Grill until soft and blackened on the skin side. Place in a bag in the refrigerator to cool. Again, this can be done in a hot oven if you don't have a barbecue.
Taste the quinoa for spices. With home-made stock, it may need a little more salt or cayenne or cumin if your spices are a little old. Peel the pepper and slice in strips. Toss all the ingredients together with the quinoa and kohlrabi mixture. Eat warm or cold. It would be a perfect picnic dish with a cold beer!