I’m staring at the weird and wonderful kohlrabi and wondering what on earth am I going to do with it.
And then I hear this little voice, ‘Baby, it’s cold outside, you know what you really, really want is a big bowl of hot steamy tomato soup straight out of a Campbell’s tin with several slices of thick white chunky bread slathered in butter’.
At moments like this I have to turn away and consult the Oracle. Third up on Google: Hugh Fernleaf Whittingstall, Hugh calls it a ‘vegetable sputnik’ but is a fan and turned his into a good looking Carpaccio (clock that for next time). Checking Riverford’s farm cook book sparked the idea of turning mine into an English variation of Som Tam aka Thai Green Papaya Salad.
I thrived on Som Tam during the three months I lived as a volunteer in Pakkred, just north of Bangkok. The local food vendors at the end of the road where we bought our dinners most nights could tell how long us ‘falangs’ (foreigners) had been in Thailand by the number of chillies we could handle in our Som Tam. Starting with one on the first week, you knew you were fully acclimatised the day you could hold up three fingers and ask for the equivalent number of chillies. Like many Thai dishes, Som Tam combines sweet, salty, spicy (hot) and sour ingredients all of which help to regulate the body’s temperature in a tropical climate.
With a leap of imagination I’m sure my improv version will increase body temperature without going comatose for the rest of the day as I would flat out on white bread and tinned soup.
Take: 1 kohlrabi, 2 carrots, 1 garlic clove, juice of 1 lime, 1 tbsp fish sauce, 2 tsp chilli jam, 1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter, coriander leaves
Peel the kohlrabi and cut into thin strips. Coarse grate the carrots. I started to grate the kohlrabi but it collapsed into a soggy mess.
What I’m after is a good crunchy texture like green papaya. The kohlrabi is a hybrid veg somewhere between a turnip and a cabbage stalk (how appealing does that sound?). But don’t be put off I think this is a FAB veg, very versatile and I like its clean taste. It works with this recipe because it takes on all the delicious flavours. It can be whatever you want it to be, that’s its secret.
Som Tam contains chopped roasted peanuts, instead I used a good quality crunchy peanut butter and mixed it with fresh lime juice and Thai fish sauce (Blue Elephant brand). I added finely chopped garlic and 2 tsp of home made chilli jam (very sweet so no sugar needed). Otherwise add chopped chillies (up to you how many) and a tspn of soft brown sugar. (Small chopped tomatoes and dried shrimps are usual in this recipe but not today.)
Good idea to mix chilli jam, peanut butter, lime juice and fish sauce together in a separate bowl and taste so you can adjust the flavour to how you like it before mixing it into the veg. Fish sauce is very salty, no extra seasoning required. Mix all the ingredients together with salad servers and it’s ready. I finished mine off with a few leaves from my Vietnamese coriander plant. Very satisfying to make and even more satisfying to eat!
Last word: Apparently kohl is German for cabbage and rabi means turnip. This veg crops up all over the place especially in Eastern Europe, Asia and in some parts, cattle are rather partial to eating it. Looking forward to eating my home grown variety: Azur Star in a couple of months.