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On a frosty February morning, what brings me to a screeching halt is the sheer richness of color—ravishing purple and celadon green. I’m looking at kohlrabies*, shorn of the whirligig leaves that grant them an interplanetary status for much of the year.

I do not have time for this. For cooking, that is, let alone mooning over produce like there is no tomorrow. It’s below freezing. I forgot my gloves. I should focus on not sounding idiotic at the rapidly approaching Roger Smith cookbook conference. And someone Sam and I love to the moon and back is gravely ill.

So I buy pounds of kohlrabies. They are good ‘uns—very firm, freshly cut at the bottom, and not too small, which means there is a higher ratio of flesh to peel. I know they will be juicy, with a mild, turnipy flavor, and they will come in handy somehow. Or not. Even if I don’t deal with them for a solid week or so, they will be absolutely fine in the crisper. Kohlrabi is a vegetable that knows how to deal with benign neglect and still retain its delicacy.

A smidgen of backstory here: The kohlrabi isn’t a root vegetable, but a bulbous stem that grows above ground. It’s a versatile—and ancient—member of the cabbage family, cultivated in France since Roman times, and in the United States since the 18th century. These days, you’ll find it all over the world, including Hungary, Germany, China, and India. Consequently, it handles an vast array of flavors and embellishments with aplomb.

You can peel a kohlrabi (the purple and green strains are the same under the skin), removing any fibrous layer beneath the surface, and eat it raw with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt or a smear of fresh cheese. If you add it to a crudité plate and not tell people what it is, it will be the first thing to disappear. It is also a marvelous and mysterious element in Bill Telepan’s winter salad of savoy cabbage and grapefruit.

But Eastern European flavors will bring comfort to the people I love. There is time, after all, to quick-braise wedges of the stuff until tender, then toss with enough sour cream to coat, a large dollop of creamy bottled horseradish, plenty of salt and pepper, and a good amount of roughly chopped dill. I hope it will come in handy somehow.

* I know, I know, kolhrabi sounds like the plural. But it isn’t.

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